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STURGIS — It will be legal to drink a beer on Sturgis’ Main Street during this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
The Sturgis City Council Monday approved an open container resolution valid for one year allowing beer and wine to be consumed in an area spanning about 24 blocks in downtown Sturgis. The open container zone spans an area from the Sturgis Vets Club on the east to the Sturgis Community Center on the west, and from Sherman Street on the south to Dudley Street on the north during nine days of the Rally.
City council members voted 7-2 to allow open container. Voting in favor were Jason Anderson, Aaron Jordan, Dean Sigman, Beka Zerbst, Mayor Mark Carstensen, Kevin Forrester, and Dave Martinson. Voting against were Angela Wilkerson and Mike Bachand.
Wilkerson, a new member of the city council, asked what concerns had been aired in the past about open container during the Rally.
Carstensen said when the issue was discussed in 2017, some residents worried about alcohol consumption on city streets.
“We are a pretty conservative community with a not-so conservative event that goes on annually,” the mayor said. “Basically the negative discussions during that meeting were that… it would make the Rally entirely different. It was too big of a change for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.”
Wilkerson said she had issues with the open container concept asking if it was considered to do it for a shorter period of time.
“To me it seems like we are just jumping right into the deep end. Nine days for 12 hours a day seems a little extreme,” she said. “It’s a little too much too fast.”
She wondered if there was discussion about just offering open container for the opening weekend of the Rally, or for a shorter period of time each day.
“Why not a shorter period of time? Ease into it so that the chief isn’t forced to be the one to jump in and say something and be the bad guy if it doesn’t go over well,” she said.
Bachand said he heard from many of his constituents who were against the open container concept for the Rally.
“Many of our citizens are entrenched in traditional fashion and have grave concerns about people walking through the barriers into residential areas with an alcoholic beverage,” he said. “There is a public sentiment out there that says not only ‘no,’ but ‘hell no.’”
Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie said the city does have several open container events throughout the year such as the Camaro Rally, the Mustang Rally and Music on Main weekly during the summer, although none of those are as large as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
The Rally open container plan consists of allowing an open container, for beer and wine, within the downtown area, provided that consumption be restricted to a city special-event cup (which the city would produce and sell for between $3 and $5) by an individual whose ID has been checked and has been provided a wrist band (provided and checked by the city or partners). Per the resolution, open container would be allowed for a nine-day period from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. each day.
Money collected through the sale of cups would be placed in an endowment by the city. Interest in that fund would annually be donated to the Sturgis Rally Charities Foundation to be distributed among local non-profits, the mayor said.
The resolution also contains language which allows the Sturgis Police Chief to make a recommendation to halt the open container should things get out of hand, Ainslie said.
“At that point the banding would be discontinued. We no longer would sell cups and the signs would immediately be changed to let people know that there is no open container area anymore,” he said.
Jordan said he appreciates formulating an open container plan that allows law enforcement the best opportunity to manage the situation.
“I appreciate the city being a little bit flexible on making some adjustments and taking the chief’s recommendations under consideration,” Jordan said.
Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater said the police department has been able to handle other open container events, but the Rally is a “whole different animal.”
“At the end of the day, you guys get to make the tough decision. If it is passed, we will do everything in our power to keep people safe and have a good time,” he said. “If it’s not (working), the city manager and the mayor will be getting phone calls at 2 o’clock in the morning when all hell is breaking loose. I’ll guarantee that.”
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