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Bowling Green's Fountain Row opens with fanfare and some skepticism

Lisa Autry

Bowling Green’s Fountain Row is now open for business. The state-approved entertainment destination center (EDC) could alter the landscape of the downtown area.

The EDC permits the open carry of alcohol at certain times within a designated area. Proponents see it as a catalyst for economic development while opponents fear the effort will lead to more litter, noise, and alcohol offenses to Bowling Green’s historic downtown.

Live music in downtown Bowling Green is common, but the city made sure to bring out the band on Friday with the opening of the entertainment destination center.

A ribbon-cutting was held on July 15, 2022 for Fountain Row, Bowling Green's entertainment destination center.
Lisa Autry
A ribbon-cutting was held on July 15, 2022 for Fountain Row, Bowling Green's entertainment destination center.

"This is a historic day for Bowling Green, so embrace it. Remember this moment," said Downtown Development Coordinator Telia Butler, before cutting a ceremonial ribbon.

City leaders hope Bowling Green is on the way to becoming more of a regional hub for entertainment and commerce. Essentially, visitors can now sip and stroll along downtown streets and certain venues. Patrons will be able to purchase to-go alcoholic beverages from participating restaurants and bars within a certain boundary every Friday and Saturday from 11:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. Patrons can then move about the district while drinking alcohol outdoors.

Lynn O’Keefe’s business was a long-time fixture on Fountain Square. She was the owner of Gallery 916 from 2006 until it closed in 2018. The opening of the entertainment destination center is the culmination of conversations she started years ago.

“I just want people to come, feel comfortable," O'Keefe told WKU Public Radio. "I just think as the third-largest city in Kentucky, we needed to act a little more mature and welcome people with a little more of an adult attitude. I think this is such a welcoming gesture.”

The approved EDC includes Bowling Green Ballpark, the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center, as well as Circus Square and Fountain Square Parks.

City Commissioner Sue Parrigin, one of the architects of Bowling Green’s EDC, said it basically extends liquor licenses from private establishments into public spaces.

“You could be at a concert in the park and purchase an alcoholic beverage, a can of beer or glass of wine, and you could walk up to Fountain Square, and say we’re having sidewalk sales all the way around the square, you could peruse and walk those sidewalk sales, look at the artwork, look at the clothing, and that would be perfectly legal," Parrigin said..

While the EDC designation permits the open carry of alcohol, merchants like restaurants and bars, will have specially designated cups to serve to-go drinks. The cups must be carried outdoors, and be disposed of before entering another business or leaving the designated entertainment district.

Cliffs of Moher Bar Manager Brigid Langdon is concerned Bowling Green's new EDC could foster more underage drinking, litter, and unruly behavior downtown.
Lisa Autry
Cliffs of Moher Bar Manager Brigid Langdon is concerned Bowling Green's new EDC could foster more underage drinking, litter, and unruly behavior downtown.

Participation among businesses is voluntary. Some have concerns over noise, litter, public intoxication, and crime. Brigid Langdon is the bar manager at Cliffs of Moher in downtown Bowling Green. She said the establishment is worried about underage drinking.

“Those cups are leaving businesses, and people who aren’t being ID’d at a bar door, somebody could always go take a cup to their friend and pour something in there from their car, or wherever, the park," Langdon said.

According to Langdon, the bar was initially opposed to the entertainment destination center, but from a business standpoint, it was hard not to participate. She’s hopeful the city will offer a stronger police presence during the designated open carry hours.

Kentucky’s entertainment destination centers are allowed under a state law enacted in 2016 aimed at boosting visitors and commerce in downtown cities. EDCs are already established in Owensboro, Paducah, Louisville, Newport, and Covington.

Tim Ross is Director of Public Events for the City of Owensboro, which opened its EDC in 2018 along the downtown riverfront. He says, initially, the entertainment district was open only on an application basis for special events.

“After the first year of having that, we did not have an increase in trash, or underage drinking, or unruly behavior, so our city commission decided to expand those hours," Ross told WKU Public Radio.

Now, Owensboro’s EDC is open Friday through Sunday, as well as weekdays for special events. While some merchants didn’t initially sign on, a majority are now on board.

“I think we have 20 something bars and restaurants downtown that are participating," Ross said. "They want it to expand again and allow it seven days a week. It’s obviously increased their sales.”

Bowling Green City Commissioner Carlos Bailey spoke at Friday’s ribbon-cutting and said the EDC will hopefully bring more people and money downtown.

"There’s the alcohol component, but there’s also the commerce component," said Bailey. "We have a place where the kids will say, 'I’m not going to Nashville or Louisville. I’m going to stay here in Bowling Green.' "That’s a great thing for our economy.”

City Commissioner Sue Parrigin said Bowling Green’s EDC should build on previous efforts to revitalize the downtown area.

“We’ve invested $6 million in our downtown over the past several years in expanding sidewalks, infrastructure, the parks," Parrigin added. "To have this next step of giving the merchants a shot in the arm and a real chance of survival down there makes me very happy.”

According to Bowling Green police, the department received no calls or complaints, nor worked any incidents over the weekend related to the EDC’s opening. Parrigin said the city will crawl before it walks, signaling future talks could produce an entertainment destination center open seven days a week.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.