Industry Groups Take Sides In Alcohol Debate; Plaza District Revitalization Centers Around Theatre

Jun 3, 2016

It’s been a week since the end of one of the most contentious legislative sessions in recent memory, and attention is now starting to turn to elections this summer and fall in Oklahoma.

Voters will decide on several state questions this fall – everything from right-to-farm to education funding. One of the constitutional questions involves repealing sections that deal with alcohol regulation. And now that it’s on the ballot, battle lines are starting to form. The Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma is against both Senate Joint Resolution 68 (which puts the changes before voters) and Senate Bill 383 (which establishes who can do what once the restrictions are repealed).

Making Sense Of Changes To Oklahoma’s Complex Liquor Laws

"The RLA says that allowing full-strength cold beer in more places, along with liquor and wine, that's going to be really bad for small business,” said The Journal Records managing editor Adam Brooks. “They also say that voters don't understand that some of the things they wanted, like being able to bring your kids into the store, isn't going to be included in that. They say that they want reform, but this isn't the right reform.”

On the other side, the umbrella organization Oklahomans For Consumer Freedom is in favor of what supporters are calling “alcohol modernization.” Spokesman Tyler Moore told The Journal Record’s Molly Fleming the group is figuring out its next step:

Entities supporting Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom include Americans for Prosperity, Beer Distributors of Oklahoma, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Oklahoma Beer Alliance, Oklahoma Grape Industry Council, Oklahoma Grocers Association, Oklahoma Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, Oklahoma Retail Merchants Association, Oklahomans for Modern Laws, State Chamber of Oklahoma and the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Moore said advertisements will start in midsummer. The group plans to make a lot of stops at community events.

“It’s important to us to engage and have real conversations,” he said. “We want to have a presence everywhere we can. We just want to make sure voters have the information to make an informed decision. We’re pretty confident that the public support is already there.”

Brooks says he suspects State Question 792 (and most of the other state questions) will be a strong, organized political campaign. During the legislative session, opponents put up electronic billboards and took out newspaper ads attacking state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, for killing jobs.

“We'll see TV. We'll see a lot of social media because it's 2016. The groups also say they plan to stop by community events,” Brooks said. “Just my analysis, I would think that maybe this is going to be an uphill battle for the opponents because I think a lot of voters don't know the details. They just want to be able to get beer and wine more easily.”

Paula Stover is executive director of Lyric Theatre, 1727 NW 16th St. in Oklahoma City.
Credit Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

Distinct Districts

Earlier this week Fowler Volkswagen in Norman and the Oklahoma Employees Credit Union honored Lyric Theatre managing director Paula Stover with its Urban Pioneer Award. Brooks says his newspaper used the award as an occasion to trace the revitalization of the Plaza District along NW 16th Street. He says the once-desolate area’s rebirth started when Lyric Theatre moved into its current space in 2000.

“It’s only been 15-16 years. It’s 98 percent occupied now and people are still looking for ways to bring in more business and more parking,” Brooks said. “We talked to some experts who say that having an entertainment option like that in a district is really important. It brings in people at night, then it attracts more businesses, more retail, more restaurant, and they all sort-of encourage each other.”

That’s what happened in the Uptown 23rd District north and east of the Plaza. Last year’s Urban Pioneer Award winners Heather and Keith Paul told Fleming that 16 years after they opened Cheever’s Café, they never expected to see the long-vacant Tower Theater see new life.

“When we first started with Cheever’s, the only time we talked about the Tower Theater was when Heritage Hills’ residents would tell us about it,” he said. “It didn’t even hit our radar what impact the Tower Theater will have once it gets open.”

Reeves said food is important because everyone has to eat, and people typically aren’t afraid to cross cultural boundaries for food. However, Paul said Cheever’s started as a neighborhood restaurant because no one north of NW 63rd Street would come to the area.

Brooks anticipates the next trendy Oklahoma City neighborhoods to be the master-planned Wheeler District south of the Oklahoma River near Western Ave. and the area around NW 12th Street and Pennsylvania Ave.

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