Many questions and concerns were brought to the High River Town Council earlier this week regarding a proposed entertainment district for special events.

A public hearing on a bylaw for a pilot project for an entertainment district took place before Town Council’s regular meeting last Monday. 

In December 2021, the Alberta Government passed The Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act, which changed the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act to allow for the creation of entertainment districts in towns and cities that want them. 

These districts are specific public areas where adults can consume alcohol while enjoying entertainment options such as special events. It would only be activated though for the particular event. 

Jocelyn Dunsmore, Community Development Liaison Officer with the Town of High River presented details on the pilot project which would run from July to December of this year if approved. 

As part of her presentation, she showed a map of the proposed entertainment district which stretches from the intersection of Macleod Trail and 1st Street SW down to 6th Ave SW. 

High River entertainment district

Several businesses including the Knee Deep Bar & Grill, Wales Theatre, and the High River Inn Restaurant would be within those boundaries. 

As per the rules outlined by Alberta Health Services (AHS) for the entertainment districts, no smoking is allowed within the boundaries, disposable and recyclable cups are required for liquor purchases and no outside liquor is permitted. 

One major question that came up during the Public Hearing was why smoking would not be allowed in the district, but liquor would be. 

Dunsmore said that AHS did not give clear guidelines as to why this is the case, only hearing that those who wish to smoke can go outside the district.  

Questions about proper enforcement were also brought up as was the concern about possible negative impacts on certain businesses within the entertainment district or nearby. 

The High River United Church, which sits just outside the proposed boundary, sent a letter to council with several questions regarding the district and how it might affect them. 

The Church asked how the district would be monitored and enforced and noted that signs alone might not be enough to ensure people honour the designated boundaries. The letter also asked about vehicle access and whether that would be restricted as it would impact any weddings or concerts at the church, which are sometimes booked a year in advance. 

The Museum of the Highwood also wrote a letter to council saying it was concerned about people possibly coming onto its deck to drink during these special events.  

Another question at the public hearing was why this project was being proposed in the first place and whether it could work in High River. 

Resident Fay Mascheri asked that question, noting that High River has many great entertainment options so creating a specific district for special events didn’t make sense to her. 

“Whoever thought up this idea in the provincial government was thinking of something like Bourbon Street or The Red Mile. We don't really have that here,” she said. “We have little pockets of entertainment district. It doesn't work here because the licensed establishments are spread out.” 

She noted the proposed entertainment district includes restaurants but also doctor’s offices, drug stores and some residences. 

Dunsmore said they will take these concerns to heart before voting on the proposed project but mentioned to council that many businesses and residents support it. 

“We did do a survey with them (businesses) the same way that we did the survey for the public and all of them were interested,” she said. “They wanted it, it was positive feedback from them.” 

She added the entertainment district in Red Deer was created in partnership with the city’s Downtown Business Association. 

The bylaw to create the entertainment district still must pass second and third reading by council before it can be enacted.