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Downtown bar owner starts petition to make Market Square an "open container zone"

Scott West, the owner of several bars and restaurants in Downtown Knoxville, said the move will help struggling businesses and keep customers healthy.

With snow flurries swirling on Friday, it's hard to picture Scott West's vision for Market Square. But the bar mogul is already looking toward warmer nights. 

"In my world of business, where I'm planning, that's tomorrow," he said. "So in order for this to happen, it needs to happen now."

He started a new petition asking Knoxville City Council to make it legal to carry and consume a drink in the heart of downtown. 

"You come to Market Square and have this beautiful magical outdoor setting that is nowhere else in the Southeast," he said. "If Market Square had an open container rule it would look like magic."

With COVID-19 likely to stick around, he said opening up more public areas to drink will help businesses and hurt the spread of the coronavirus by emphasizing gathering outdoors. 

"I think there are definitely some benefits from having an open container, definitely from the standpoint of COVID-19," said the executive director of the Downtown Knoxville Alliance, Michele Hummel. 

Though she noted not all businesses were on board. 

"I think some were afraid of things getting a little bit too wild. And having more of a Beale Street sort of feel to it or French Quarter feel to it," she said. "Although I think most businesses are in favor of having an open container as long as it's with certain regulations."

Hummel argued it could attract new customers to visit Market Square and patronize brick-and-mortar businesses. 

A city spokesperson said there were no formal plans under consideration by City Council. While they could adopt a regulation for the change, a potential sticking point could be liability insurance necessary for any incidents on public property.