Time to crack down on downtown ‘nightlife’
By TIM WEST firstname.lastname@example.org October 18, 2012 11:22AM
Updated: November 20, 2012 10:38AM
Do you feel safe in downtown Naperville late at night?
In particular, on Friday and Saturday night?
Until recently, being in a tavern or other late night establishment or going back to the car after midnight has never been a worry in our downtown.
But with the past year resulting in a stabbing death in a well-run, safe nightspot, some violent fights on the street and a recent armed robbery, Naperville could be in danger of losing one of its most precious cachets — that of a city where you can go downtown late at night and not have to worry about having problems.
That was on the mind of the City Council members toward the end of Tuesday night’s council meeting, when Councilman Joe McElroy proposed that maybe it would be better if the hours that alcoholic beverages could be served in local taverns were reduced by an hour.
In the course of a lengthy conversation, McElroy added that drinkers were coming into the downtown “half in the bag,” while Councilman Paul Hinterlong suggested that bartenders were overserving customers.
Police Chief Bob Marshall pointed out a problem with people sitting in their cars in parking garages drinking or doing drugs.
And when Councilman Judy Brodhead said that the most valuable intangible downtown had was its reputation for being safe at night, that it was more important than late night sales tax dollars, it was about enough to make you want to say “OK, close up the gin joints and turn back the clock.”
When Councilman Doug Krause talked of his fear of the firemen that go into crowded saloons with the police to make sure the places don’t have more customers jammed into them then the occupancy regulations allow getting hurt if a fight breaks out and of his concern about worker’s compensation claims, my reaction would be I don’t care about comp claims, but there is no way I want places in my town where firemen on duty have to fear entering.
If we’ve gotten to that point, talking about adding a cop or two to the downtown beat or making places close an hour early is like trying to put out a forest fire with a pitcher of water.
The council ought not to be thinking that what it calls the “nuclear option” in making bars shut down an hour earlier.
A real nuclear option would be making the establishments that are persistent problems shut down entirely and not issuing permits for replacements, as well as bringing a heavy legal hammer down on troublemaking customers. Maybe the downtown would be less attractive for people who like to drink and start fights or worse if there were fewer places conducive to doing so and if miscreants knew they’d get busted and the penalties would be steep.
Businessmen ought to be at least as concerned as council members and residents about protecting the huge investment so many of them have made in Naperville’s central business district.
And if I were a bar owner, the last thing I’d want is worrying about losing my license because some punk starts a fight or stabs someone in my saloon.
To be fair this has not a problem that has suddenly sprung up overnight.
As the downtown has grown over the years and its restaurants and bars have made it an increasingly popular nightspot in the western suburbs, we are essentially reaping what we have sown.
Over the past years the Sun has run numerous stories about how crowded the downtown has become late at night, particularly with age 20-somethings out on the town for a good time.
If we let the downtown at night be taken over by the drunks and the rowdies then the people we want to have downtown will go someplace else where they can feel safe and secure.
In recent months Naperville has been looking at increased revenues from sales tax dollars.
If a goodly chunk of money now has to be shoveled toward dramatically increasing police protection for downtown patrons at night and making sure barkeepers and their customers toe the line, so be it. I can’t think of a better thing to spend it on at the moment.