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story.lead_photo.caption Downtown Eureka Springs is shown in this file photo. - Photo by Ben Goff

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether they want a permanent entertainment district.

But they may think they're seeing double when they look at the ballot.

There will be two questions regarding entertainment districts on the general election ballot in Eureka Springs, said Mayor Robert "Butch" Berry.

The first one, brought about by a petition for referendum last spring, will be for a "permanent entertainment district with a sunset clause." In that case, the sunset clause caused the "permanent" entertainment district to expire in September, Berry told City Council members at a meeting Monday night.

The second question on the ballot will be whether Eureka Springs should have a permanent entertainment district. Period.

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The City Council decided to put the second question on the ballot to clear up any confusion that could be caused by the first one.

"This gives the voters an opportunity to decide once and for all whether or not they want to have an entertainment or arts and outdoor dining ordinance," Berry said at Monday's City Council meeting.

"I think this is a great idea," said Melissa Greene, a council member. "This doesn't mean any of us are supporting or non-supporting of it. I think our citizens have a right to decide this."

Ordinance 2297, putting the issue on the ballot, passed unanimously Monday night.

Armstrong said the ballot wording will be: "An election to refer the issue of allowing use of the Act 812 of 2019 of the Arkansas Legislature to create a permanent entertainment district in Eureka Springs, Arkansas."

In February, the council passed Ordinance 2292 -- which created a permanent entertainment district. But they included a sunset clause so the entertainment district would end and the issue could be revisited later if all went well.

Eureka Springs, population 2,073, relies on tourism.

The idea of an entertainment district has been hotly debated for months.

"You're talking about death, mayhem and expense," Mickey Schneider told other City Council members at a meeting last year. "This whole entertainment district thing is so wrong for Eureka it's pathetic and unbelievable that it's gotten this far."

Schneider said the families with children wouldn't want to come to downtown if people were drinking in the street. Ordinance 2292 allowed consumption of alcohol outdoors on downtown city streets at specific times each week.

A petition drive commenced last spring to stop the entertainment district until November, when people could vote on it during the general election. The petition basically puts Ordinance 2292 before the voters in November.

A total of 192 signatures were collected, and 177 of them were certified, said City Clerk Ann Armstrong. The number of valid signatures needed was 146.

The entertainment district operated for three days in March before the signatures were certified, which happened at about the same time Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered the closing of indoor service at bars and restaurants because of covid-19.

The entertainment district was officially on hold until the November general election.

While the idea of a permanent entertainment district has been contentious, the city often allows temporary entertainment districts during festivals.

"There were a lot of people in town who just wanted an answer, and I think that's fair just to answer it once and for all," councilwoman Susan Harman said Tuesday. "Personally I don't care if they vote yes or no, I just want them to vote. ... We're looking forward to seeing what that vote comes out to be. It just gives us an opportunity to have a clear vote and a clear directive from the citizens."

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