Earlier this month, Oxford Police Department Chief Joey East recommended new city ordinance changes to the Board of Aldermen about the Oxford Square. East introduced plans to designate the Square as a special “Downtown District.” The district would have different laws from the rest of the city to make the Square safer at night.
The proposed district’s boundaries would stretch from 14th Street to Ninth Street and from University Avenue to Jefferson Avenue, encompassing the area where most college students and visitors go during the weekend.
“It could be called the Downtown District, or call it Entertainment District or the Historic District,” East said. “But having a separate district would allow us to do things differently in the downtown area than in other parts of the city.”
City attorney Pope Mallette said he “thinks we can do this” by modeling a Downtown District off of the French Quarter that is considered separate from the city of New Orleans.
The biggest change would be extending hours of operations of bars so people aren’t exiting the bars into the street all at once.
Bars currently close at midnight Monday through Wednesday, 1 a.m. on Thursday and Friday, midnight on Saturdays and at 9 p.m. on Sundays. The only exception to this rule is Saturdays when there is a home football game and bar hours are extended to 1 a.m.
East’s proposal includes changing the hours for closing time to 1 a.m. on Monday through Saturday and leaving the 9 p.m. closing time for Sunday to make the hours more consistent.
“I think this a great idea,” Scott Caradine, owner of Proud Larry’s, said. “We can sell more alcohol, but it’s also great for safety, so everyone isn’t going out the door all at once.”
Caradine said he has not met with OPD but knows several bar owners who have, and he heard it was a productive meeting.
Although the board has not formally discussed or debated this proposition in detail, Jason Bailey, Ward 6 alderman, had an exchange with Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill during a discussion about extending the bar hours by an hour.
“I don’t think we’re taking care of our issue. I think we’re pushing it back,” Bailey said. “People are going to drink and drink, and also, you’re going to have another mass exit. … I think it’s an hour too short.”
Tannehill responded, saying she didn’t think “you could ask bars to stay open for two hours without selling alcohol” but that it was Bailey’s choice to ask owners to do that.
East also proposed ideas like improved security camera requirements, special permit requirements, driver’s license scanners to prevent underage drinking and a designated area for all taxis and Ubers to pick up riders.
Among the propositions that would affect Ole Miss students would be a new requirement that businesses, even if they have an Alcohol Beverage Control permit, would need to get an event permit from the city and patrons would have to be 21 or older to stay after a certain hour, for private parties. This would allow the Oxford police to have more presence and control at date parties and swaps when they haven’t in the past.
“Anyone that has an ABC license does not have to have (an event permit),” East said. “There are a lot of swaps or private parties that will hold 500 or 600 people, and we have no idea this is going on. We are not prepared.”
After the meeting, Tannehill said East made a lot of wise recommendations, but the board will focus on a lot of the “minor issues that will be easy to implement.”
“We’ve met with the bar owners as a group and gotten a lot of input from them and will continue to meet with them individually,” Tannehill said. “We’re going to try to come up with a solution that makes it a safer place to be, puts some responsibility on the bar owners and allows us to keep Oxford the great family community that it is.”