Alcohol sales in several Collier County parks is expected to draw church and other nonprofit events rather than lead to an influx of drunks near swing sets, officials say.
“It’s not to create a drunken environment in the park,” Collier County Parks and Recreation Director Barry Williams said. “I mean, it’s not like we’re going to put a beer tent up by the playground.”
Instead, Collier County commissioners’ approval Tuesday of alcohol sales and consumption at an additional four parks could allow parks staff and event planners to consider the option of selling beer, wine and champagne at public and private events.
Before now, alcohol permits required commission approval.
So, when representatives from St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in East Naples returned to get an alcohol sales permit from commissioners for their third annual International Festival held at Sugden Regional Park in late February, it seemed a little redundant, they had said.
“It wasn’t arduous to get their permission, but since our first year was uneventful in terms of any problems in serving alcohol (it seemed redundant),” International Festival chairman Dick Rogan said.
If alcohol couldn’t be sold, it would have hurt income this year, he said. Had the church not received approval for alcohol sales, it would have reluctantly searched for another venue, Rogan said.
“The event is a celebration of diversity. To me, (alcohol) adds to the relaxing atmosphere, especially with our emphasis on international food and ethnic entertainment,” he said.
The policy change frees up commissioners’ time and puts the decision in the hands of the county’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
Lee County doesn’t make it easy to sell alcohol at events held in their parks, Lee County Parks and Recreation deputy director Dave Harner said.
There are only about 10 events with alcohol permitted each year, he said, and approval from several departments, including police, parks, public works and the county manager, is required.
The county’s policy seeks to limit the number of such events because there are “people who don’t want to deal with it,” he said.
As part of the change in Collier, sales and consumption of alcohol would be permissible at public and private events at Sugden Regional Park in East Naples, Immokalee Airport Park, North Collier Regional Park on Livingston Road and Golden Gate Community Center.
Currently, beer is sold at the county’s stores at the Goodland and Port of the Islands boat ramps, Collier County spokesman John Torre said.
The Naples Grande also has a permit to sell alcohol at the Clam Pass concession as part of the hotel’s lease within the park, he said.
The county prohibits the use of glass and Styrofoam containers. Alcohol may not be taken out of the event and insurance must be carried; at least two Collier County sheriff’s deputies per 1,000 attendees would be required, Collier County Emergency Medical Services must be contracted to keep an ambulance on standby and the alcohol must be indoors or sectioned off by tall fencing.
The special alcohol areas, referred to by county officials as “beer gardens,” must be fenced using 6-foot-high chain-link fencing.
Lee County has similar safeguards in their regulations, Harner said.
Despite some separation and safeguards, some park-goers say the family atmosphere of the parks conflicts with the atmosphere created by intoxicated patrons.
However, it just hasn’t been a problem under the old policy, Collier County officials said.
Golden Gate Community Center will most likely continue to draw more weddings, which is why it made the new list, Williams said.
A Collier County-government related event, the Bayshore Festival of the Arts, was held at Sugden with alcohol as a draw in celebration of Collier County’s Community Redevelopment Agency for the Bayshore/Gateway Triangle area, Williams said.
Overall, he anticipated the expanded county policy will do no more than relieve the County Commission’s agendas of repetitive alcohol requests.
“Whether Sugden will get a rush of people holding events there now because they can drink beer, I just don’t know,” Williams said, adding that he didn’t think it was likely.