Mall and shopping center restaurants and other tenants that serve alcohol could sell drinks during special events outside the building if bipartisan legislation in the General Assembly in Raleigh is approved.

State law does not permit restaurants and other tenants in malls to sell alcoholic beverage outside their doors.

Senate Bill 344 was introduced March 25 by state Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, one of its primary sponsors.

The public bill cleared three N.C. Senate committee steps, the last on Monday in Rules and Operations. However, the bill was withdrawn from the Senate floor Tuesday.

Woodard said a plan negotiated Tuesday would insert the legislation into N.C. House Bill 536, an omnibus bill that revises the state’s alcoholic -beverage-control laws, when it reaches the Senate.

Woodard said the legislation’s primary goal is to allow mall and shopping center restaurants and other tenants to sell alcoholic beverages at special events that typically have third-party vendors serving through mobile taps.

An example would be Hanes Mall sponsoring an outdoor concert in the parking lot.

The legislation would encourage the mall to set up the concert stage adjacent to an in-mall restaurant, such as Dave & Buster’s or TGI Fridays.

A customer could buy beer or wine in a 16-ounce paper or plastic cup in the restaurant — with its logo included — and take it to the parking lot if the pathway to the concert is inside a barrier.

“These events have been held at malls for years,” Woodard told The News & Observer of Raleigh. “This is just a good business bill for the tenants in the mall, for the restaurants that are there 365 days a year.”

The legislation would allow mall and shopping-center owners to obtain a common-area entertainment ABC permit on behalf of their tenants.

The barrier requirement also would allow for open-container alcoholic beverages to be taken to an inside common area.

“A customer would not be able to take an open beer or wine cup with them into a Belk’s or another tenant,” Woodard said.

Hanes Mall’s policies prohibit possessing any open container of alcohol or consuming alcohol anywhere in the mall except inside businesses licensed to sell alcoholic beverages.

“At this time, there are no planned changes to our policies and practices,” said Sarah Kotelnicki, the marketing director for Hanes Mall and Friendly Center in Greensboro.

Designated common areas would be required to be reported to the ABC and posted ahead of time in a public area by the facility owner.

Some senators, including state Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, have said they would support SB344 as a Durham County-only local bill but were not in favor of it being effective statewide.

Woodard said that while the impetus for the legislation was a request from The Streets at Southpoint in Durham, he agreed to make SB344 a public bill because “malls are having a hard enough time attracting customers.”

“Many malls are turning to entertainment venues and other nontraditional mall tenants, some of which sell beer and wine,” he said.

“This is just a good business bill for the tenants in the mall, for the restaurants that are there 365 days a year,” Woodard said.

The legislation would not permit customers to bring and consume alcoholic beverages bought within one store into another. It also would not allow alcoholic beverages bought from a non-mall vendor to be taken into a designated common area.

Customers could only be served one alcoholic beverage at a time. Mall and shopping center owners could limit the hours that tenants could sell alcoholic beverages and the hours people would be allowed to drink.

Some senators said they opposed the bill, in large part because they prefer malls and shopping centers to remain alcohol-free in most common areas where families congregate.

Woodard said most restaurant operators “are very protective of their ABC permits, and mall owners tend to have significant experience in offering and handling special events with alcohol involved.”

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