The Jacksonville and Sherwood city councils will vote Thursday on whether to set a Nov. 14 election that could allow restaurants in the defunct Gray Township and Precinct 64 to sell alcohol by the glass.
Most of Jacksonville and the northern half of Sherwood make up the dry Gray Township. Precinct 64 is mostly northern Pulaski County but contains a sliver of Jacksonville. Right now, restaurants in these areas can only serve alcohol under a private club license.
Leaders of both cities have been working for years to allow alcohol sales. Residents voted the areas dry in the 1950s, but the townships have since ceased to exist. A 2013 law passed finally allowed the issue to be put to a vote, but supporters had to collect signatures from 38 percent of registered voters in those areas to get it on a ballot. Community leaders fell short of the high threshold.
But the campaigns gained new momentum when a state law passed this year gave the cities the authority to set an election.
The law — sponsored by Reps. Bob Johnson, D-Jacksonville; Karilyn Brown, R-Sherwood; and Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock — only concerns elections regarding on-premises alcohol sale and consumption, and not whether to allow liquor sales at grocery and convenience stores, which city leaders had previously sought.
Still, city leaders see the prospect of alcohol sales by the glass as good for economic development. Both city mayors — Gary Fletcher of Jacksonville and Virginia Young of Sherwood — said the measure would attract new restaurants, giving their cities a boost.
Fletcher told Arkansas Business that many Jacksonville residents travel outside the city to get wine with their steak dinners. He said the city is missing out on sales tax revenue and the jobs that new restaurants could bring to the community.
Jacksonville is also working to revitalize its downtown, and Fletcher said those storefronts could be attractive to restaurants that want to serve alcohol.
"I see that in Little Rock, and we have a lot of potential; we just need to level the playing field," he said.
Young hopes the measure will be a catalyst for economic development in the northern half of Sherwood, known as Gravel Ridge, which has about 3,000 people.
Young said both cities are working together to campaign for a "yes" vote. Leaders from both communities meet weekly to discuss their efforts.
Young added that, eventually, Sherwood would like to see grocery stores allowed to sell alcohol. The city is hoping a grocery store will be built in the undeveloped area in the northern part of the city. She noted that Sherwood has a total population of about 30,000, but only two box grocery stores — a Walmart Neighborhood Market and a Walmart Supercenter on Highway 107.