The boundaries of Tucson’s new entertainment district encompass most of the new streetcar route through downtown. Above, one of the new streetcars undergoes testing on East University Boulevard.

A.E. Araiza / Arizona Daily Star

Bars and restaurants can now seek an exemption to open up near schools and churches in downtown Tucson.

This week the City Council unanimously approved a downtown entertainment district to allow alcohol sales within 300 feet of such institutions.

The district’s boundaries encompass most of the new modern streetcar route through downtown.

Passenger service starts July 25 on the streetcar route, which links downtown and its west side with the North Fourth Avenue shopping and entertainment area and the University of Arizona campus.

City officials have also agreed to extend the planned streetcar hours until the 2 a.m. bar-closing time on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, in another boost to downtown entertainment enterprises.

Two schools reside in the downtown core: Imago Dei Middle School at 55 N. Sixth Ave. and City High School at 48 E. Pennington St.

Even though establishments can seek an exemption to sell alcohol near a school, they still must go through the current liquor license application process and secure City Council approval.

Some residents fretted the change would allow bars to flood into downtown residential neighborhoods.

To allay their fears, Councilman Steve Kozachik delayed a final vote on the entertainment district by a month and extended the public involvement period.

Kozachik, whose ward covers downtown, said the new district doesn’t strip neighbors of their voice in the liquor licensing process. It just opens the door for a possible exemption, he said.

Kozachik said the extra time cleared up many issues. “We checked all the right boxes in terms of making sure everyone’s concerns are met,” he said.

He expects the change will result in new uses for some of the vacant buildings in the district and will keep the momentum going for downtown revitalization.

The city’s entertainment district comes four years after the Arizona Legislature passed a law allowing cities to create up to three entertainment districts in parts of town that have a high concentration of bars, museums, theaters and other entertainment-related businesses.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or Follow on Twitter @DarrenDaRonco