FORT LAUDERDALE -- Visitors here may have changed over the years -- from rowdy spring breakers to more sophisticated resort tourists -- but what hasn't changed is their desire to drink on the beach.
So the city, which ended a Sunday morning alcohol ban two years ago to accommodate the cocktail wishes of Sunday brunchers, is now considering allowing alcohol back on its beaches as another way to boost its tourism industry.
Commissioners on Tuesday will discuss proposals to allow State Road A1A hotels and restaurants to offer food and beverage service on the beach in front of their establishments -- and to allow beachgoers to bring their own drinks.
"Fort Lauderdale beach is a world-class destination," said Aiton Yaari, a member of the beach business district committee recommending the hotel and restaurant service to commissioners. "We want to be something special. We want to be like Saint-Tropez."
But beach resident Mel Rubinstein sees nothing but trouble ahead if the city takes that route, because the beaches are public -- unlike at some resort locations -- and the city will face lawsuits if it tries to limit the drinking.
"I don't think it's a good idea for that reason, because you can't control it," Rubinstein said. "You can't confine it to the people that you want to."
Under the proposal being discussed, hotels and restaurants could apply for permits to serve food and beverages to guests, as well as to the public, on the sand in zoned areas in front of their properties. The service would be available between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.; customers would have to pay with credit or debit cards; and the food and beverage containers would be recyclable and would have to be cleaned up by the serving crews.
In his memo to commissioners, City Manager Lee Feldman also said the proposal is to open up the whole beach to alcohol.
"This would allow for the sale of alcohol beverages in proposed zones and also allow visitors who choose not to purchase alocoholic beverages from a hotel/restaurant, to bring their own beverages to the beach," Feldman wrote.
The proposal would allow for "dry periods" during times that alcohol on the beach might be a problem, such as during spring break.
Most cities don't allow drinking on their beaches.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler doesn't know if it will fly.
"I'm being very careful and cautious about how far we expand this, if we expand it," Seiler said. "I don't want people showing up at the beach with six packs, and I don't want them showing up with bottles."
Seiler said the city has been able to run some special events on the beach that have served alcohol without incident, so he's willing to explore pilot programs that expand on that in a limited way.
Yaari prefers an approach that focuses on the businesses, rather than allowing alcohol everywhere.
"That's not the direction that any of us -- hoteliers, business owners and property owners -- are looking for," Yaari said. "We don't want to turn Fort Lauderdale beach into everyone coming with their coolers and beers."
But beach resident Fred Carlson doesn't know what would be so wrong with that.
"Why be restrictive? Are we in the business of trying to tell people they shouldn't enjoy themselves while they're on our beach?" Carlson asked. It's not like people aren't already imbibing there, he said.
"I'm sure there's widespread usage, but you know, it looks like lemonade and it has a little zing to it. Or it's in a paper cup," Carlson said.
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