Proposed Social District for Downtown New Bern and Five Points

Swiss Bear Inc. (SBI), New Bern Area Chamber of Commerce, Craven County Tourism and Development Authority (TDA) in cooperation with Downtown Business Council and other local businesses, and the City of New Bern are in the process of exploring the creation of a social district in Downtown New Bern and Five Points. Ultimately, a proposal will be made to the Board of Aldermen, asking them to approve a social district, to increase and expand the economic vitality of our Downtown and Five Points for residents, property owners, business owners and visitors.

We will be looking for public input on this initiative which will focus on the Bring Business Back to Downtown Bill. This bill, supported by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, aims to increase economic vitality in North Carolina downtowns.

What is a Social District?

A social district is a specific area in which alcoholic beverages are allowed to be carried in open containers on the street.

How do we create a Social District?

The way the law is written, the following must be addressed to create a social district:

1. A geographic zone must be established and a map of that zone must be filed with the ABC.
2. Special cups must be used that say “Must be 21-please drink responsibly”. Additionally, the cup must identify the social district and the name of the business in which it was sold.
3. The zone must be clearly marked and delineated with visible markings and/or signs.
4. Sanitation, safety and public health must be considered and adequately addressed.
5. The district map, hours of operation, and days of operation are currently under discussion between the task force and city staff. The resulting agreement will go to the Board of Aldermen for a vote.
6. Businesses that do not serve alcohol may choose to opt out of allowing beverages in their store.

Does Downtown need a Social District? if the answers are yes, we are ready for a social district

1. Is there a walkable "social" area?
2. Are there multiple social venues?  (e.g. restaurants, pubs, breweries, cafes, galleries, theatre, experience shopping, etc.)
3. Is there a significant number of special events?
4. Do a significant number of visitors and tourists come to Downtown?
5. Is there a 'beer and wine' culture in Downtown?

What are the benefits of having a Social District?

1. Increased tourism.
2. A Social District offers a broad social and cultural experience for residents and visitors.
3. Opportunity for increased tourism as a ‘Destination Downtown.’
4. Opportunity for businesses and non-profits to hold events, such as Art Walk, festivals, crawls and many others.
5. Opportunity for increased dollars spent in stores and eateries as people stay longer to shop, dine and enjoy New Bern.
6. Opportunity for existing AND new bars, non-bars and restaurants to increase revenue streams by serving “to-go” drinks.
7. Opportunity to encourage business growth with new businesses seeking to participate in this economic opportunity.
8. Anecdotally, people drink more responsibly if they are mobile rather than stationary.

What are the main concerns?

1. Drinking-related issues, such as underage consumption, public drunkenness, drunk driving, and general irresponsible behavior.
2. People illegally bringing or consuming alcohol that has not been purchased in the social district.
3. Litter or waste increase.
4. Conflicting events within the Social District boundaries.

What has been the experience of other cities with implemented social districts?

1. There are currently social districts in many states, including: Mississippi, Alabama, Ohio, Louisiana, Georgia, Oregon, Missouri, Nevada, Florida, New Jersey, Michigan.
2. Most cities have reported minimal to no increase in crime, 911 calls, destruction of property, or hospitalizations.
3. Almost every district reports drastic increases in both tax and merchant revenue.
4. Most social districts conducted trial periods, then continued to grow their districts and increase days/hours of operation, because social districts have proven to be successful and without measurable increased legal incidents.

NC Social District News:

1. Norwood Town Council Approves Social District
2. Kannapolis Creates New Social District
3. Information About Downtown Greensboro's Social District
4. Downtown Greensboro New Social District Lets You Sip Your Adult Beverage AND Stroll The City
5. Sylva Considers Creating Social Districts 
6. Drinking On The Streets Of New Bern In 2022? How Will It Work, Where Will It Be?

Nationwide Social District News:

1. Social District In Downtown Muskegon Could Expand After Successful Year
2. St. Joseph To Expand Social District Next Year

NC towns/cities that either approved or are planning a social district(s). List provided at the NC Main Street Conference, March 8, 2022.

Mount Airy
High Point


Roanoke Rapids
New Bern

What can you do to help get this passed?

1. Be vocal in discussing the district at our public engagement sessions TBA.
2. Promote it in conversation with others, on social media, and within your business.
3. Write letters asking the Board of Aldermen to pass the district, explaining why it is important to your business and to New Bern as a community.

History of Bring Business Back to Downtown – Bills 890 and 781

This bill was first proposed in May of 2021, sponsored by Timothy Moffat from District 117, Hendersonville and then later co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Tyson of District 3, Craven.

It became a bipartisan bill as it moved through committee and was redrafted. The Senate passed House Bill 890 on a 35-7 vote, sending it back to the House for a final vote. There, House members had no debate at all before voting 95-8 in favor of the bill, sending it to Gov. Roy Cooper who signed it into law.

The bill made a number of changes regarding alcohol in NC, but according to sponsors of the bill, the attractive feature of this bill is that it allows for the creation of social districts as an Economic Vitality booster. It will help “small businesses” who suffered most from Covid-19, as well as help to re-invigorate downtowns with increased tourism.

Special thank you to Downtown Salisbury, Inc., Main Street program for Salsibury, NC for providing much of this information, as well as the NCDDA (North Carolina Downtown Development Association).