Wednesday, May 25, 2022

City OKs alcohol sales during new downtown concert series

The Downtown Alive Concert Series will take place Saturdays from Memorial to Labor day in the 200 block of Chestnut Street. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — Concertgoers will crowd streets near the downtown library on Saturdays this summer, as the Downtown Business Alliance launches a Downtown Alive Concert Series in May. The 200 block of Chestnut Street will be blocked off for music lovers to enjoy the free sounds and beer and wine for sale. 

At the Wilmington City Council meeting Tuesday night, members voted to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages on city property during the series. The 15-week series, to take place between Memorial and Labor days, will feature tribute bands and local musicians, according to Chris Andrews, an event liaison for DBA.

ALSO: Catch up on other local music news

Over the last two decades, Andrews has launched multiple downtown gatherings for DBA, including Rims on the River, the American Craft Walk, and the Wine and Beer Walk. He is working with local musician and promoter Conan Anderson of Son of Ander Enterprise LLC to book bands. They are gauging success based on Wilmington Downtown Inc.’s Downtown Sundown, which ran for 15 years, mostly on the Riverwalk.

“It’s hard to do a concert that is going to have some sort of mass appeal and be free,” Andrews said. “That’s the business side of it — finding a careful balance to draw people. It’s either got to be somebody really good or it’s got to be free.”

Andrews was on the ground floor of launching Downtown Sundown in its early stages in 2005. He and Susi Hamilton, former WDI CEO, planned the first season and split proceeds between nonprofits. The concerts would draw up to 3,000 people over a four-hour window on Friday nights. 

Current WDI president and CEO Holly Childs announced in March the organization would no longer host the series after a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19. 

“Holly and I have a great relationship,” DBA president Terry Espy said. “We didn’t want to step on any toes, but they were very forthcoming [that] they had no intentions to continue the concert series — that they are economic engines, not event people.”

DBA is seasoned at sponsoring events and advocating for downtown business. In 2020, it worked with the city to block off the streets for Downtown Alive — a five-month program that ran at the height of Covid-19 shutdowns and social distancing, in order to help downtown eateries extend dining space outdoors onto Front Street. The nonprofit covered some costs of fencing and barriers, and also had volunteers block off streets and man them every weekend.

The intention for the 2022 concert series is to drive more foot traffic to downtown businesses. Espy said, for the Downtown Alive Concert Series, concerts will be held Saturday with a start time of 5 p.m. WDI used to host the shows on Friday night and the runtime was later.

“Visitors that come here, they’re all weekend warriors,” Andrews said. 

“They come in late and may not even want to hit downtown after traveling on a Friday,” Espy added. “So we figured Saturday would be a better day.”

She said it gives people an opportunity to eat a late lunch and shop before the show or catch a concert before dinner. The Downtown Alive Concert Series will wrap by 9 p.m.

DBA is also drawing up incentives for concertgoers. Espy said they are in early talks of doing a scavenger hunt.

“Something like whoever spends $25 in four different businesses that are identified in the compromised area of the concerts turn a card in, with proof of receipts, and weekly there will be a cash prize,” she explained.  

Details are being hashed out to strengthen the economic footprint the concert series leaves behind. DBA will keep partial proceeds and help as need be, though Sons of Ander production company is managing it overall. 

“These guys have the machine already,” Espy said. “They’ve got staff, they’ve got professionals, and know how to set up.”

Though the DBA concert series won’t be happening on the Riverwalk — construction continues to plague the area at the foot of both Market and Princess — it still will be in the streets. During Downtown Sundown’s final year (2019), the shows were held in a parking lot near 2nd. Andrews said he did not want to go that route.

“We had to put our St. Patrick’s Day festival over there,” he said. “It just doesn’t have the right cool vibe — plus, it’s a big asphalt lot with no shade whatsoever, a problem when you start getting into July and August.”

The Harrelson building at 211 Chestnut St. — which the city also agreed Tuesday to purchase for $11 million — provides coverage from the afternoon sun. Concessions will be set up there, with the stage hoisted nearby at the top of Chestnut near 3rd; it will face 2nd Street. Andrews said the area is easily accessible to a couple thousand people.

“Now you’re partying in the street versus in a parking lot,” he added.

Downtown Alive Concert Series will have beer for sale, with one local brewery represented among multiple domestic options weekly. Espy said they’re working with the Cape Fear Beer Alliance to rotate the local offering. Though the organization would prefer all local beer, the smaller craft breweries often are limited on product to meet demand outside their own taprooms and distribution needs, Andrews explained.

In a unanimous vote at Tuesday’s meeting, council members —aside from Mayor Pro Tem Margaret Haynes who recused herself, as she serves on the DBA board — approved of alcohol sales being made during the series.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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