Houston City Council voted on Wednesday to expand its Downtown Entertainment Zone, an effort to bring more life and businesses back to Downtown Houston.
The ordinance brings lax alcohol restrictions by allowing businesses to sell alcohol within 300 feet of a church, school, public hospital, or within 1,000 feet of a school that has requested an alcohol-free zone. Businesses within the zone will have to obtain a TABC Food and Beverage Certificate. It also lifts the city’s restriction on how many establishments on a single-face block can sell alcohol and eliminates outward-facing signage that signals alcohol is being sold at the establishment.
“This is exciting due to the fact that we are also looking at expanding the (More Space Main Street program) to seven blocks,” said District I Council Member Robert Gallegos, who represents most of Downtown.
The zone was created in 2003 and Houston has one other entertainment zone in Midtown, created in 2021. The city’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs department first proposed the zone during the city’s Quality of Life Committee meeting on October 25.
According to the city, the original zone is limited as far as landscape the number of businesses that can sell alcohol. The new expansion will branch out toward Downtown’s elevated freeways, I-45 on the west, I-10 on the east, and I-6 on the south. More than 50 businesses were lost in Downtown Houston as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic according to Central Houston Incorporated, who also wrote a letter of support for the expansion.
The city did meet with its stakeholders in the area prior to Wednesday’s approval to discuss the new zone. The Islamic Da’Wah Center, a worship facility that’s located in the current zone, was the only stakeholder against the expansion. Its Director Ameer Abuhalimeh said there’s been many issues with the current alcohol-serving places around.
“These kinds of establishments attract a crowd that’s unorderly, and they do not respect the rule of law,” he said “Among the years, we’ve seen the violent nature that comes from the type of people who visit these establishments.”
Abuhalimeh said the changes are just going to bring more businesses and not enough regulations.
“The current set-up makes it very hard for us to worship in the mosque,” he said. “They are not enforcing loud music, laws which prevent any violent acts, we see people walking and intoxicated, and not to mention, the littering, broken glass, and empty liquor bottles.”
Abuhalimeh said the center, a religious institute, has contributed to the economic development of the city. He said it brings people downtown to worship, as well as promote the city landmarks and the ability to the area that is dense.
“They do not really think about the importance of having faith institutions within a big city,” he said. “A lot of meetings that take place at the Hilton Americas attract Muslims from all over the world, when people come to the Medical Center, a worship place is nearby, and the reason some people choose to go the University of Houston Downtown is because the worship center is nearby.”
The center said it will evaluate the outcome of the expansion before any further steps are taken.