As the popularity of Entertainment Development Centers rises in the region, with cities like Bellevue, Dayton, and Covington offering them, Newport is considering a district of its own.
If passed, the designated area of the city would be called the Newport Entertainment District or NED within defined boundaries along Monmouth Street from the intersection of 3rd Street south to the intersection of 11th Street. Entertainment districts allow patrons to consume alcohol outdoors in a designated cup and bring it into participating businesses like shops that don’t typically serve alcohol.
Newport City Manager Tom Fromme said discussions on the idea have been in the works since March 2020 and came about due to repeated requests from residents, businesses, and board members.
“This did come as a repeated request, oftentimes in the nature or thought about the competitiveness capabilities with surrounding communities, aka Bellevue, Dayton, Fort Thomas, you name it,” Fromme said.
People at the meeting spoke both for and against the entertainment district. Fromme said he thinks the positives outweigh the negatives.
“If you don’t adopt it, the fact is that we may not be competitive,” Fromme said. “We may not draw new businesses into the community. That’s something you’ll never know if you don’t do it.”
He said Bellevue has drawn ten new businesses to the city since implementing its Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area, also known as DORA, on Fairfield Avenue.
To test or pilot the idea, Fromme said the city would start with three blocks before any expansion to see if it works.
Newport City Commissioner Beth Fennell said she agreed with testing the districts within three city blocks to start because Newport operates differently than Bellevue.
“I would like to evaluate it if it passes, like maybe after three months,” Fennell said. “See how it’s going, see if we have any problems.”
Additionally, Fromme said that the city also keeps a weekly log of how many police calls bars receive. The Assistant City Manager, John Hayden, has weekly meetings about the runs, which helps set a standard for an establishment. Fromme said this record-keeping has helped him get on board with an entertainment district more now than he would have been three years ago.
Fromme said businesses can also opt out of the program and do not have to allow people to walk into their establishments with the cups.
Newport Commissioner Ken Rechtin said he wasn’t against the district but thought it might work better for events exclusively. He said no empirical studies are showing the economic impact of the entertainment districts or showing them creating new businesses.
“The only studies you find is the National Institute of Health, which says that alcohol has a negative impact on gross domestic product, a negative impact of 2.5%,” Rechtin said. “So, all the production, all the making of beer, all the making of spirits, and all the distribution adds to the gross domestic product and has a negative impact of hospitalizations, addictions, and those types of things.”
Rechtin also suggested getting public input from people who do business within the area should they expand the district. Fromme said that the city held input sessions and received feedback from residents and businesses in the current proposed area.
Newport Commissioner Mike Radwanski said the “city’s lunch” is currently being eaten by its neighbors without the district, which he didn’t think was right.
“The idea behind that is you’re able to go into all the gift shops and everything else with a cup,” Newport Mayor Tom Guidugli Jr. said. “Therefore, you linger, and you spend more money. There are studies that demonstrate the longer that people linger in a store for whatever reason and the fact that they’re consuming, they’re spending more money. That study does exist.”
Guidugli said the feedback he has received is that the districts boost local businesses, enhance tourism, and create vibrant places.
He did ask Newport Police Chief Christopher Fangman if the district required more policing and if the department could handle it. Fangman said that the department serves Newport’s 14,000 residents and is equipped to serve the 50,000 people who run through the city daily.
Former Newport Mayor and Monmouth Street business owner and resident Jerry Peluso addressed the commission to speak against the entertainment district.
Peluso first said that the rules keeping the cups out of non-participating businesses would be as effective as a speed limit sign telling people not to exceed 55 miles per hour on the expressway.
“Courtrooms every day across the country are filled because people don’t follow rules,” Peluso said. “So, putting anything on your door or a cup, especially if you’re drinking it, isn’t going to work.”
Peluso said he has a front-row seat to misbehavior along Monmouth Street.
“There’s one common denominator that has control on one’s unpredictable behavior, and it’s called alcohol,” Peluso said. “What happens when you mix alcohol with irresponsible non-resident public intoxicated people?”
He said what happened was vandalism, graffiti, public urination, vomit, litter, etc., that he found outside his property.
“I’m opposed to any entertainment district in this neighborhood,” Peluso said.
A second reading of the ordinance will be held in October. If passed, it then has to be approved by the state. Fromme said it took Dayton over 90 days to get theirs approved and estimated the district wouldn’t go into effect until Spring of next year.