COLUMBIA — When First Ward City Councilman Fred Schmidt suggested an ordinance Monday that would ban alcohol consumption in Douglass Park, he said he was acting on behalf of his constituents.
Schmidt said Friday he is neither for nor against prohibition in the park. Rather, the councilman said he will support that which the Douglass Park community favors.
Whether the community favors the proposed ordinance, however, is uncertain. Board members of the Douglass Park Neighborhood Association are opposed to the idea of prohibition. Furthermore, given that drinking is permitted in all but three city parks, some feel the move would be discriminatory.
Justin Thomas, a former executive board member of the Douglass Park Neighborhood Association, approached Schmidt with concerns that intoxicated people at the park could lead to confrontation during family-oriented events. Recalling a handful of instances in which those consuming alcohol contributed to escalating arguments, he reasoned that people would feel more comfortable spending time at Douglass if alcohol were not permitted there.
He said he brought the idea to about a dozen neighborhood residents, and most provided positive feedback.
But when Thomas asked neighborhood association secretary Tyree Byndom via email whether the association would support a ban on alcohol, Byndom did not agree.
"We've considered this and talked about it with no conclusion," Byndom wrote, according to a copy of the correspondence provided to the Missourian.
The executive board of the neighborhood association is preparing to deliberate on the ordinance at its next meeting, March 3.
Anthony Stanton, vice chair of the neighborhood association, said prohibition of alcohol should be discussed citywide.
"If we're going to address this in Douglass," Stanton said, "We need to address it in all parks."
A precedent for park-specific regulation does exist. In 2011, the city prohibited alcohol in several center city parks — Flat Branch, Paquin and Village Square — after law enforcement was unable to curtail instances of clearly intoxicated or passed out visitors. Due to their proximity to the Special Business District, the downtown parks were deemed a special case; alcohol remains legal in all other city parks.
Douglass Park, located at Providence and Worley, is within a stone's throw of the downtown area. Mike Hood, director of Columbia's Parks and Recreation Department, said it is a neighborhood park and also a community landmark.
Debra Gentry, chairperson of the neighborhood association, highlighted Douglass' role as a neighborhood gathering place first and foremost. Gentry moved to Columbia in 1981. Despite knowing no one, she gravitated to the park.
"It's the one place that minorities go, the only park that hosts functions that attend to me and my culture," Gentry said.
But Gentry rarely goes to the park anymore. When she was younger, the constant police presence "felt like intimidation," she said.
Stanton echoed that point but acknowledged that Douglass has room to improve. That improvement, he said, will come much more readily if driven by positive rather than negative reinforcement. Positive programs, be they baseball or impromptu DJ sets, bring positive people, he said.
Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.