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Alcohol sales likely at WCU games this fall

Changes to the alcohol situation at Western Carolina University games are on the way for the upcoming school year, both inside and outside of stadium walls. 

During the March 5 meeting of the WCU Board of Trustees’ Administration, Governance and Trusteeship Committee, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Mike Byers gave an update on efforts to offer beer and wine sales at athletic events, and it’s looking like such beverages will be available at games starting this fall. 

“What we expect to see is that we’ll be in a position to have beer and wine sales at football beginning in the fall and basketball beginning in late fall, and softball in the spring,” Byers told the committee. “We do not expect to be prepared to offer beer sales at baseball by next spring because one of the requirements is that you have to have a secured venue, and baseball is not a secured venue.”

Alcohol sales can’t occur at baseball games until a fence is erected around the entire stadium, and that will be difficult to accomplish simultaneously with the parking deck’s nearby construction, expected to begin in May and last one year. It’s likely that beer and wine sales will be offered at baseball games for the spring 2022 season. 

Byers has been researching beer and wine sales since trustees voted Dec. 6 to authorize such sales pending development of an implementation plan, which he delivered to trustees last week. The recommendation came as the result of three months of study from a 17-member special committee assembled in August to examine the pros and cons of alcoholic beverage sales at sporting events. That discussion was instigated by a state law enacted in June, which authorized public colleges and universities to allow alcohol sales at stadiums, athletic facilities and arenas on school property.  

WCU has determined it will work with Aramark for alcohol sales, and representatives of the company have visited campus to tour Ramsey Activity Center and Whitmire Stadium in order to identify the ideal point of sale and distribution locations. With the locations identified, Byers and Aramark are working through estimated costs to get sales started. 

“Our intent is once we have those estimates to connect the dots between whether it can pay for itself or not,” said Byers. “I would expect that to be a barrier we’ll be able to overcome.”

The university currently expects that revenue from alcohol sales will only cover the cost of implementing the program. However, said Chief Communications Officer Bill Studenc, any proceeds over and above the cost of operations will go toward fan experience initiatives. 

Parking deck construction will have another impact in addition to delaying implementation of alcohol sales at baseball games. It’s also the impetus for an overall reshuffling of game day parking and tailgating zones. 

“The need for additional handicapped parking has escalated in recent years to become a problem that we need to address,” said Studenc. “Because the deck construction will cause us to reshuffle many parking areas beginning fall 2020, we wanted to go ahead and address the need for handicapped parking near the stadium.”

During their March 6 meeting, trustees unanimously approved a plan to change the location for student tailgates where alcohol is allowed from the Field House Lot, located just north of the stadium, to the Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Lot, which is on the opposite side of Centennial Drive. The action also included adding the Field House Lot to the list of areas where alcohol is permissible for general tailgates but not for student tailgates. The change will allow the university to offer more handicapped-accessible parking near to the stadium. 

“We looked at all the parking lots as the potential destination for it,” Byers said of student tailgates during a March 5 meeting of the trustees’ Administration, Governance and Trusteeship Committee where the matter was discussed. “This was the one that had the most overlap of interest. There was no one place that was unanimous on everybody’s part.”

David Rhode, who sits on the board as president of the WCU Student Government Association, said he was worried the lot might not be big enough. 

“My concern is that Bardo might not be enough to house all the student organizations we have that do come out and tailgate, regardless of whether they’re consuming alcohol or not,” he said. 

Byers said that concern was likely unfounded. The Bardo lot will offer enough tailgating spaces to accommodate the same level of interest from student-recognized organizations seen last year, he said. While the number of parking spaces is smaller, many of the spots in Bardo back up to natural wooded areas that expand the space available. 

“It could actually result in a net gain,” said Byers.

As the university gears up for a slew of housing and parking-related projects in the years ahead, the tailgating change is just one of many adjustments to be made in preparation. It’s “a very simple change,” said Byers, and it’s “part of a long string of dominos we’re working on to arrange game day.”

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