Macon council delays open container vote for Bragg Jam

With word that a few squares were trying to crash their party, nearly 30 Bragg Jam supporters showed up at Tuesday’s Macon City Council meeting, where the legislative body was scheduled to vote on an ordinance to allow participants in this month’s festival to sip booze in downtown streets.

But the show of force wasn’t enough. The council decided not to take action on the ordinance and sent it back to committee. With four members absent, elected officials who supported the ordinance said they did not think they could muster the required eight votes to pass the measure. By not voting, the proposed law can be presented again when the full council next convenes, July 21. That’s four days before the main portion of the festival.

Allowing the ordinance to be defeated would have generally prohibited its immediate reconsideration before the festival, and that, said Council President Miriam Paris, would send “a bad message to Bragg Jam.”

“I would like to avoid that type of PR,” she told council members before the meeting, as it became apparent that landing eight votes for the measure would be tenuous.

Only three council members have voiced strong opposition to the ordinance — Elaine Lucas, James Timley and Charles Jones. They have generally offered similar critiques: approving a new law that carves out for Bragg Jam a specific date when people are allowed to drink alcohol in the streets provides an unfair benefit not offered to other businesses or events.

“Macon is bigger than one section of town,” Jones said. “We’ve got to look out for this entire city so that others may participate in the process. ... Macon is not just downtown. Macon is Macon, east to west, north to south.”

There has also been some concern that the ordinance would create disorder in the streets. But proponents say the law, which is modeled after similarly lax alcohol regulations on First Fridays, would make it easier for police because the booze could only be consumed from special cups by people wearing approved wrist bands.

Bragg Jam, scheduled for July 25, is a local music festival held annually in memory of brothers Brax and Tate Bragg, who died 10 years ago in a car crash. The brothers were active in the local music scene, and the festival is put on each year to raise money for the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail. Last year, the festival raised $45,000, its most successful showing ever.

Organizers and supporters of the event called tonight’s vote a decision larger than whether to relax rules on alcohol consumption. They said it was a chance for the council to show its support for the younger, “creative class” that is seen as crucial to Macon’s future population growth. Putting out a call on Facebook, festival backer Chris Horne had exhorted “cool folks who want a cool city” to show up and let the council know there is a large contingent of Macon residents who share a more progressive vision for their hometown.

Council rules limited the number of people who could speak to three. One was James Weatherford, who said his family has owned a food manufacturing business in town since 1971. He said hard times have forced his family to look for new avenues to generate revenue, and that many of the ideas they’ve explored are stymied by the fact that there are not enough young people in the city to support their plans.

The Bragg Jam festival, he said, has been the face of what resurgence in youth Macon has experienced.

“Tonight’s vote is about far more than open containers,” he said. “It’s a vote that speaks volumes about the direction this city is headed in.”

Intown resident Carey Pickard said when he moved to Macon in 1991 there was very little to do. In the past few years, that has no longer been the case, he said.

“There are a number of reasons for that change,” he said. “Bragg Jam is at the top of the list.”

Brad Evans, Bragg Jam’s president, said after the meeting that postponing the vote will make logistics more difficult. The festival can ask Mayor Robert Reichert for a one-day permit for outdoor alcohol consumption, but that would only apply to activity in city park space, said Andrew Blascovich, spokesman for the mayor and treasurer for Bragg Jam.

Among the plans the festival had was to set up trucks in the street to distribute specialty mugs that could be taken to bars and filled up with beer. Now, Evans said, the council’s inaction may mean 1,500 mugs have been ordered for nothing.

“It’s a little embarrassing to have city leaders who don’t support you,” he said. “But this is the city we have.”

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.