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Council approves Carnegie alcohol

By Martin Burkey
DAILY Staff Writer 340-2441

The Decatur City Council voted 3-2 Monday to allow the Carnegie Center for the Visual Arts to serve alcohol at fund-raising events.

Council President Billy Jackson and Councilmen David Bolding and Ronny Russell voted to grant the Carnegie an exemption from city regulations regarding off-street parking minimums, selling alcoholic beverages in residential neighborhoods and alcohol sales in proximity to a church.

Councilmen Ray Metzger and Gary Hammon voted against the measure.

The Rev. Buddy Champion, minister of First Baptist Church across Canal Street Northeast from the museum, urged the council to reject the request. He said that more than 500 children attend church programs throughout the week, not just on Sundays and Wednesdays, when the Carnegie would not be allowed to hold events with alcohol. He said it would also open the door to other requests near other churches, schools and neighborhoods.

"This council will be responsible for what takes place in the years to come," he said.

Betty Pickell, who said she belonged to a neighboring church, said she wasn't against the request. She knows members of First Baptist and other churches who take a drink at times, she said.

"I have difficulty in understanding why if you leave church and see someone drinking, how that is going to undermine all of the teaching that the church gives you," she said.

Several other residents, however, told the council it would be breaking a promise made by a council 20 years ago that it wouldn't allow alcohol near a church. James Montgomery wondered why the museum's board didn't go public with its support. Public tax dollars, he added, shouldn't go to support the museum for "a plan to distribute a known drug."

Pam Henigan said other civic groups seek special event licenses for fund-raisers involving alcohol, including the Jaycees Riverfest, scheduled for a council vote later that night.

"If they only need a couple of nights, why give them every night?" she said. "Maybe there's not enough support for the Carnegie."

Bolding, who introduced the museum's request, said it represented a compromise that would be good for the neighborhood and that he envisioned only about four such events a year.

Metzger brought the discussion to a vote with a final plea that brought laughter from the council and the audience.

"I don't see why they have to have alcohol to have a fund raiser," he said. "Do you have to get drunk to give away your money?"

A similar proposal in December died without a council vote, mainly because of opposition from church members.

Carnegie officials estimate they lose $50,000 annually in rental fees because of the alcohol limitation and that it also inhibits their ability to hold fund-raisers.

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