Mayor Barlow’s proposed social district: Community members at odds

OSWEGO, N.Y. – The City of Oswego’s Planning and Development Committee approved Mayor Billy Barlow’s proposal to designate part of the city’s downtown a “social district” on Monday. The district would allow people to buy an alcoholic drink at one business and consume it as they stroll around a designated area downtown. 

The approved hours for the social district are noon to 11:59 p.m. After hearing from the council, the new proposed time is now from noon to 10 p.m. every night from June 1 to Oct. 1. 

His proposal comes just weeks after Gov. Kathy Hochul unveiled her plans to allow businesses to offer alcohol-to-go programs. It’s also currently one of the talking points in the New York State Budget that has yet to be officially approved, but is in the process of an “agreement,” according to Hochul as of Thursday evening. 

With Barlow’s proposal being approved, local community members are at odds, some posting on social media, fearful that the new social district would cause problems in a college town with students who might take advantage of the new opportunities to drink in public. 

This comes after a popular bar, Alley Cat, had its liquor license taken away after nearly 100 patrons were caught inside underage drinking last November. 

“Of course, there were some negative comments,” Barlow said. 

“I find that most of those negative comments came from people who actually didn’t understand what we were really talking about,” Barlow said.

Barlow says the new social district would not take away existing open-container laws, but it would instead offer convenience to those looking to grab a drink from one business, then enjoy the rest of the businesses in town. 

“I think we’re doing it responsibly,” Barlow said.

“They thought that we were just lifting the open-container, and it was a free-for-all. It’s also not a blanket lifting open-container ordinance,  you still can’t come downtown with a six-pack of beer and drink it while sitting on the sidewalk,” Barlow said. 

Others online have stated that the new social district might pose a threat to local businesses in the area that don’t serve alcohol. Kerrie Webb, the stepmother of a SUNY Oswego student, said these concerns aren’t worth it. 

“If we’re living here, and we eat here, and we spend our money here, it’s better for our community,” Webb said. 

“I don’t think that it’ll necessarily be something that is an issue, we have a good police department, we have a good rapport with the college, those aren’t even the things that I worry about,” Webb said.

She went on to explain that her concern is for pedestrian safety on the street. 

“For me, it’s crosswalks, signage, it’s walk-ability,” Webb said. “You’re building an area for socializing, but we also have a busy road that divides some of that district.”

The social district is open for public comment at the courthouse on April 11 at 7:15pm, where they will push the social district into the final stages of approval.