Ocala’s ‘open container’ ordinance headed to state capitol

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 5:40 PM EDT
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OCALA, Fla. (WCJB) - The City of Ocala’s ‘open container’ ordinance is on it’s way to the state capitol, where local leaders hope it gets approved.

Last week city staff presented the proposal to Marion County’s Legislative Delegation. It was a unanimous vote to advance the bill onto the next step.

RELATED: Ocala city staff start ironing out the details of proposed ‘open container’ ordinance

State House representative Joe Harding and State Senator Keith Perry were a part of that vote.

“We’re seeing other areas in the state of Florida do similar bills. When you look at the growth we’ve have had in that area, with really quality restaurants, and now the hotel, I think that this is right in line with that in tying to expand that experience,” Harding said.

If the ordinance is approved during each step, staff said this will likely go into effect in the summer.

“This is home rule. This is letting the city council have the opportunity to make their own decisions. Government close to the people is the best when it makes sense and this certainly I thought in my opinion made sense to give them that opportunity,” Perry said.

It’s something newly elected council member James Hilty will have to vote on.

Hilty was elected to take the District 5 seat last month. He, and the other newly elected council members, will be sworn into office in Dec.

RELATED: A newcomer and a former councilman are running for the Ocala City Council District 5 seat

He said he’s confident he’ll make the right decision based on his past experience as a council member.

“I would probably vote for it. I don’t see any reason not to. My confidence is pretty good because we’ve tried to create a tourist destination if you will in Ocala so this kind of blends in,” Hilty said.

He said he’s aware that there will be some challenges, but overall believes this is a good move for the city.

“We want to be fair to everybody as best we can. Obviously, it could create some challenges for the police department, they’re all aware of it, were going to have to work it event by event, to see how things go, but I think it’s a positive move for everybody hopefully,” he added.

Ocala will be added to the growing list of Florida cities adopting ‘open container’ ordinances, if their bill makes it through the House, Senate and receives the governor’s signature.

Cities like Gainesville, Leesburg, and Mount Dora have all created ‘event and entertainment zones’ where open containers of alcohol are allowed.

An hour car ride down 441 takes you to Mount Dora where alcohol is served year round in the entertainment zone.

It’s similar to what Celebration Pointe does in Alachua County.

The policy which Ocala took inspiration from.

“It’s worked very well for us. We’ve had virtually no problems with it because Mount Dora is not a town where people come, where teenagers come for spring break,” Mount Dora Police Chief Brett Meade said, “I would make sure that the city council, the police department and all of the stake holders understand when you do something like this, is understand who’s going to be taking advantage of it. Who’s going to be the one walking around with an alcoholic beverage,” he said.

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