City Council OKs sports tourism funding, legalized drinking on Downtown Riverwalk

The legislation provides $1.5 million to attract events like the NCAA Tournament, allows “specialty centers” to serve alcohol in special cups.

  • By Ric Anderson
  • | 9:23 p.m. January 23, 2024
  • | 4 Free Articles Remaining!
Tampa created specialty centers along its riverwalk, offering alcoholic beverages in special cups.
Tampa created specialty centers along its riverwalk, offering alcoholic beverages in special cups.
Friends of the Tampa Riverwalk
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A pair of bills aimed at creating new things to see and do in Jacksonville received final City Council passage Jan. 23.

Council President Ron Salem’s request for $1.5 million in funding to boost sports tourism was approved 18-0.

A Downtown Investment Authority bill allowing legalized but regulated drinking on the Riverwalk was approved 17-1, with Council member Mike Gay voting no.

Council member Rory Diamond was absent for both votes.

Salem’s Ordinance 2023-0869 will fund efforts by Visit Jacksonville to attract sporting events to the city, including March Madness basketball games. Rounds of the NCAA men’s tournament were last played in Jacksonville in 2019 and Salem is urging tourism officials to put the city back in the tournament’s rotation.

Jacksonville drew the opening rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament four times between 2006 and 2019 before falling off the schedule, which is set through 2026.

The money will be used to pay event application fees and expenses for staff to travel for meetings and negotiations. Initially, at least, no extra staff will be hired.

Salem also envisions establishing a nonprofit organization whose board would spearhead the sports tourism effort and raise private funding to support it. 

The Riverwalk legislation, Ordinance 2023-0863, establishes state-sanctioned “specialty centers” on the walkways where alcoholic drinks can be legally purchased and consumed from licensed vendors within the centers’ boundaries. 

Drinks must be contained in specially designed cups and sales are limited to two 16-ounce cups per person. 

Under an amendment approved in committee, hours for legalized consumption will be 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

Both bills passed without comment from the Council.

This story has been updated to correct the alcohol cup size.



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