Wednesday, November 15, 2017

TOP STORY >> Voters: We’ll drink to that

Leader editor

Voters in Jacksonville and Sherwood on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved allowing liquor sales in restaurants in the defunct Gray Township, which voted to ban the sale of alcohol more than 60 years ago.

More than 80 percent of the voters in both cities supported the measure Tuesday. Jacksonville approved 993-179, while Sherwood voted 645-151. The rural and mostly residential area north of Little Rock Air Force Base narrowly defeated the proposal, 43-42.

The election results mean it will be much easier for restaurants to obtain permits to sell alcohol. It will make both cities more attractive to proprietors.

Supporters of the drink-by-the-glass reform effort believe it could set the stage to help attract big-name restaurants while giving a boost to existing ones, create jobs and improve the quality of life.

State Rep. Bob Johnson (D- Jacksonville), who sponsored legislation to allow liquor sales in restaurants, said, “I’m elated. I’m amazed at the percentage of the people who voted in favor. I’m really glad I sponsored legislation to pave the way for the vote.”

“Jacksonville is ready for some good restaurants on Hwy. 67/167,” said Johnson, who was at an election watch party at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, which will be able to buy alcohol wholesale when it begins to serve liquor by the drink and also advertise the beverages that will be served.

Johnson is running for mayor of Jacksonville and will not seek re-election to the state House.

Gray Township spans almost all of Jacksonville and much of Sherwood, including Gravel Ridge. Voters had to live in the township, and in city limits, in order to cast their ballots.

The results won’t bring in liquor stores or loosen rules on bars in Jacksonville and Sherwood. Gas stations and grocery stores will still be banned from selling alcohol if they’re already in a dry area.

The election results mean restaurants in otherwise dry areas can sell beer, wine and mixed drinks for on-premise consumption.

Restaurants that wanted to sell alcohol in Jacksonville had to obtain an expensive and complicated private-club license, but not for much longer.

Dr. Robert Price led the Vote for Progress Now committees in Jacksonville and Sherwood, which worked to give restaurants the privilege to sell alcohol.

“Everything came out like we were hoping for. Something like this can only happen when you have a lot of people involved. I had a lot of help. It’s the only way to pull it off. The last several months has been a real marathon for us,” Price said.

He thanked the many volunteers, including his wife, Ginger, Rep. Johnson, former Rep. Mike Wilson, Susan Rice, Karen Abrahamson and Jacksonville City Council member LaConda Watson.

Price expects the new rules to take effect by mid-December once the election results are certified. He said one prospective restaurant operator was awaiting the results of the election before moving forward with plans to open in Jacksonville.

Paul Wilson, who co-chaired with Price the combined Jacksonville-Sherwood committee, is building a shopping center in Gravel Ridge of Hwy. 107 near Brockington Road.

He had told The Leader he hopes the eased liquor rules for restaurants will help spur development in Gravel Ridge.