HOUSTON—Soccer and tailgating go together like, well, football and tailgating. Houston Dynamo fans crowd the parking lot of Robertson Stadium before every game, boozing up and chowing down in a pre-game tradition.
But a little known wrinkle in Houston’s code of ordinances that has caught the eye of everyone from city bureaucrats to city council members stands in the way of that game-day ritual. Oddly enough, tailgating outside the new soccer stadium is illegal.
“I understand it’s against city ordinances at this point,” said Brian Ching, the Dynamo forward who is the team’s star player. “So hopefully we can sort that out and our fans can get back to doing what they love.”
That’s what the city’s political leaders expect to do this week. Houston’s mayor and city council will consider amending city ordinances to essentially allow tailgating outside downtown sports venues.
The curious legal problem traces back to a broadly worded section of the city’s code of ordinances. With broad, but very specified exceptions, it basically bans public drinking in downtown Houston.
“It shall be unlawful for any person to be in possession of an open container in the central business district,” according to the city’s code. “It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in the public consumption of any alcoholic beverage in the central business district.”
The ordinance makes exceptions for drinking in homes, privately owned buildings, motor vehicles or any place licensed by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. It does not, however, make an exception for sports fans drinking in a parking lot.
The amendment going before city council would allow drinking at team-sponsored events outside downtown sports stadiums. Although city officials say it would apply not only to the Dynamo but also the Rockets and Astros, spokesmen for the baseball and basketball teams say they have no plans for any tailgating events.
People who live and work around the new Dynamo stadium generally support the change. After all, it’s an area whose bars and nightclubs are part of its attraction to new residents.
“I think it’ll be great for the city, great for this area, especially, because it’ll bring a lot more vibrancy to the old warehouse district,” said Jared Smith, who works in the neighborhood.