City, merchants working to keep open-air beer, wine consumption legal at Prairie Village Art Fair

Prairie Village and the Village Merchants Association appear to have found a way to keep it legal for patrons to enjoy beer and wine while strolling around the Prairie Village Art Fair.

It will take a bit of bureaucratic contortionism, but local government and business officials appear to have found an avenue to work around a set of Kansas liquor laws that could have left patrons of the Prairie Village Art Fair feeling blue.

After a set of rules pertaining to the state’s outdoor dining regulations were adjusted last year, state officials let Prairie Village merchants know that the open-air drinking setup used at both the the annual KU Pep Rally at Corinth Square and Art Fair at the Village Shops would no longer be permitted. Instead, state law dictates that each vendor wanting to serve alcohol at such events must apply for its own liquor license, and that every licensee have a clearly partitioned area to which all drinking would be restricted.

The law would have made it illegal for Art Fair patrons to have a beer or wine while walking by the artists’ booths.

Prairie Village police, merchants and city officials were concerned that patrons at the Art Fair would balk at the regulations, since they have an expectation of being able to move around while enjoying a drink. The new rules set up an unappealing situation the police officers who would be responsible for enforcing the rules.

“People think those kinds of restrictions are ridiculous, and when they think something’s ridiculous, they ignore it,” police chief Wes Jordan told the City Council last week.

News of the regulatory snag struck many on the City Council as arcane.

“This just sounds so Kansas,” said Councilman David Belz.

“So 1946 Kansas,” added Councilman Steve Noll.

But at a meeting Thursday, representatives from the city, the Village Merchants Association and Kansas Alcoholic Beverage Control agreed in principle to a legal maneuver that will make the Art Fair a “community event,” thus allowing it to issue a group event liquor license. State law permits events held in an area that includes a city right of way — like Mission Lane at the Village Shops — to be granted the distinction. With the single group license, it will be acceptable for people to drink within the boundary of the entire Art Fair area.

The city council will have to pass an ordinance officially naming the Art Fair a community event. Assistant City Administrator Dennis Enslinger said that vote is likely to occur April 2.

Mary Rimann, who helped convene the meeting, said it looked like the parties had come up with a good solution.

“This is a family event, not the kind of thing where you have problems with overconsumption, so we wanted to figure out a way to let patrons enjoy it like they always have,” she said.