St. Charles’ second attempt to tame North Main Street, appease bar owners
The St. Charles City Council plans to introduce an ordinance next week aimed at taming North Main Street’s late night revelers. The new plan comes after an initial proposal of an early ‘last call’ ignited an uproar from area bar owners and failed to advance.
Dave Beckering, a council member and backer of both proposed ordinances, said disturbances from people exiting bars and nightclubs on North Main Street have spun out of control in the last two years, creating late-night traffic that police can’t handle.
“When all of the them close at the same time at 1:30 in the morning, and if they’re all at capacity under the fire code, 2,800 people walk out into the street at one time.”
In the approximately three-block section of North Main Street, 18 businesses with liquor licenses make the mixed-use district a hot spot for people looking to stay out late.
St. Charles Police data from 2016-2017 show a roughly 64 percent increase in minor incidents (misdemeanor crimes and quality of life issues like fights or public urination) in the area. The data shows 181 minor incidents through June 2018.
Beckering points to the increase as a reason for taking action now. “We’re not like St. Louis County. We don’t have hundreds and hundreds of police officers. So we’re trying to maintain order at 1:30, 2:00 in the morning with a very small number of officers. And it’s just gotten to a point where it’s just not doable anymore,” he said.
The new ordinance proposes a punitive point system for all St. Charles businesses with liquor licenses. Bar and restaurant owners would accrue points for violations like serving to minors, or allowing patrons to leave with open containers. Those offenses are one-and-a-half points. But, more severe violations, like gambling or doing drugs, are three-point offenses.
If a business accumulates six-and-a-half points it could face losing its liquor license.
Along with the point system, the new ordinance also establishes a liquor commission comprised of the chief of police, the finance director, and director of community development. The ordinance also caps the number of liquor licenses permitted on North Main Street at six.
None of the existing bars or restaurants will be forced to shut down, but if they reach the maximum number of points, sell or go out of business another business with a liquor license will not be allowed to come back in its place unless owners agree to close by 11 p.m.
“The point system is absolutely unfair and ridiculous because if I throw a patron out for being intoxicated there’s nothing to stop him from coming back in next week and punching somebody in the face, and me getting points and getting my liquor license revoked for it,” said Matt Windels, general manager at Uncle Joe’s Bar & Grill in North Main Street.
Windels said he’s worried about the minor offenses like fighting and open containers adding up and threatening his liquor license. He said he’s not as worried about big offenses like weapons violations.
“I can have my bouncer stand there with a metal detector and wand people as they come in to stop from weapons. But, like I said, I can’t stop anybody from putting a beer in their purse or their pocket and walking out,” he said.
Beckering said while bars can receive points for those things, “nobody is going to lose their liquor license because there was one fight in a parking lot.”
The ordinance also proposes raising the percentage of revenue that must come from food sales from 50 to 60 percent.
This also causess a problem for bar owners, Windels said.
“It’s going to put every business down here in a position where they’re going to have to lower their liquor prices and raise their food prices. So, now you’re talking about more problems because you’re selling your liquor for cheaper,” he said.
Beckering disagrees with that philosophy.
“In my opinion, again, they’re approaching this from the exactly wrong point of view. You ought to do the opposite. You oughta raise your liquor prices and quit selling dollar longnecks, so that you don’t end up having people coming in there doing nothing but drinking.”
Beckering did say the city “bears responsibility” for originally issuing 18 liquor licenses for the section of Main Street (two of which, were issued within the last six months). But he said he hopes this proposal will, over time, reduce the number of businesses with liquor licenses down to six and eliminate the strain on police resources.
The new ordinance is expected to be proposed in City Council on Tuesday at the 7 p.m. meeting at St. Charles City Hall.
Follow Abigail Censky on Twitter: @AbigailCensky