Cortland lawmakers narrowly pass alcohol permit for Summer Stage concert

CORTLAND, N.Y. – Cortland Common Council voted 5-4 Tuesday night to waive the city’s open container law to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages during an annual summer concert scheduled to take place in downtown Cortland in September.

Council members were split in a 4-4 vote, prompting Mayor Brian Tobin to vote in favor of allowing the sale of alcohol at the Cortland Summer Stage Concert, which is set to take place on Saturday, Sep. 12.

Voting against the proposal were alderpersons John Bennett, Julie Bird, Linda Ferguson and Kathryn Sillman.

Bennett, who represents the city’s fourth ward, feared that allowing the sale of alcohol during the event could lead to the kind of binge drinking and rioting of Cortaca Jug 2013.

“As somebody who sat on the Cortaca Commission, this is the line I have to walk,” Bennett said.

Alderperson Kathryn Sillman said allowing alcohol to be sold at the event could set the wrong tone.

“The message we agreed as a community and as a university that we wanted to put out there is that we won’t tolerate binge drinking,” Sillman said. “My concern is if we add alcohol into the mix, we’re giving a very mixed message to the students who are new to the community.

“I really don’t want to send the message, ‘You come to Cortland, you start drinking,’” Sillman said.

Concert organizers tried to assure council members that alcohol would be sold under a controlled environment.

Adam MeGivern, executive director of the Cortland Downtown Partnership, said alcohol would be sold in a confined area and served by trained staff.

Co-organizer Chris Merkley tried to ally the fears of council members who were concerned about binge drinking.

“We haven’t promoted an event that encourages binge drinking,” Merkley said. “Cortaca is a whole other issue. It wasn’t a sanctioned event, it wasn’t organized.”

One council member suggested organizers charge for admission and include a 2-drink minimum, a proposal Merkley called "a poor move financially," given that the concert is marketed as a free event put on for the community.

City of Cortland Police Chief Micheal Catalano said he also disagreed with concert organizers but ultimately agreed that the sale of alcohol, if allowed, should be sold in a contained area.

“I do get concerned when we move out of the summertime. The main message has been to curb any type of binge drinking,” Catalano said. “Whether this will create a bigger issue or not, it’s anybody’s guess at this point.”


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