Opinions vary on changes to entertainment rules
Date: 2/14/2012Feb. 15, 2012
By G. Michael Dobbsnews@thereminder.com
SPRINGFIELD One entertainment business owner is challenging the conception the city's downtown entertainment district is out of control with crime issues.
Paul Ramesh, the owner of three nightclubs on Worthington Street, Kush, Glo and Shadow, explained to Reminder Publications
that during the period of Dec. 2, 2011 to Feb. 2 there were 902 arrests in the city, according to police records.
Of those arrests, only 127 were in Sector E the police designation for the area that includes the Metro Center, the South End and part of Maple High Six Corners and of those 127 only 21 arrests were "bar-related."
Three of those 21 arrests didn't happen in Worthington Street area, but at the Basketball Hall of Fame complex, which is considered part of the entertainment district, Ramesh noted.
Specifically the arrests were in the Mardi Gras parking lot, Stern Square, Worthington Street, the Fifth Alarm and on Dwight Street. The arrests yielded charges including disorderly conduct, suspended drivers license, resisting arrest, assault and battery, default warrant and burglary.
Ramesh added the notion that out-of-towners are causing problems was not born out by the crime reports. Only three of the 21 arrests involved people who were not Springfield residents: one person from Agawam, one from Fairburn, Ga., and one from New Britain, Conn.
Ramesh compiled the arrest information in response to the proposed special permit that will be required for any bar or restaurant owner to have to present any form of entertainment from 1 to 2 a.m. Live bands, karaoke, disk jockeys, juke boxes, television sets, pool tables and exotic dancers are some of the features that are affected.
"This will be bad for business," Ramesh said. "It won't change anything."
A Springfield club owner for 10 years, Ramesh believes if a bar is forced to shut down its entertainment at 1 a.m. but can still serve for another 45 minutes things could be worse downtown.
Attorney Frank Caruso, who represents several bar owners, said that at the Dec. 23, 2011 hearing that no one but the police testified in favor of the change. Although there have been rumors the new license may be challenged in court, Caruso said, "I'm not aware [of any such action], but it wouldn't surprise me."
Caruso said that media reports on the new policy have already had an effect as "people think closing time has changed and it's [the new license] is in effect."
Thomas Walsh, the communications director for Mayor Domenic Sarno, explained the findings of the December hearing must be published in order for the implementation process to begin. Once 30 days have past since the publishing, the new ordinance would take effect. Businesses would then have to apply for the special entertainment license and there would be a hearing for each business's application.
The application requests information about the type of entertainment presented, the number of people the club can legally host, the security measures the club has in place and what it does to prevent the over-service of alcohol. The club's history with the Police Department and the Board of License Commissioners would also be presented at the hearing.
Walsh added there would be no fee for the license.
"Each individual application will be reviewed on its own merits," Walsh said. Because these businesses already have a liquor and entertainment license, Walsh added there would be no public input at the meetings.
For business owners, there is a lot at stake. Caruso said at the hearing in December that 40 percent of a club's revenue is earned between 1 and 2 a.m. Ramesh said, "It is a busy hour."
Even a cursory look at Worthington Street by this reporter at midnight on Saturday indicated just how busy the clubs were. Nearly every on-street parking spot was occupied and cars cruised the block looking for free space. There were not too many takers for a paid lot on Worthington Street that was charging $8 to park.
Despite the frigid temperatures, there were throngs of people clustered on the sidewalk in front of clubs such as Fat Cat's.
At 1 a.m. there were patrons who were still entering clubs and the parking spots were still occupied. There were police officers inside some of the establishments and some in cruisers on the street.
At the Feb. 9 meeting of the Board of License Commissioners, a report from the Police Department was received about recent incidences that took place at the city's bars. There were eight reports from businesses in the entertainment district and the only recommendation was for the commission to review one establishment's security plan. No violations were reported.
Ramesh believes at least part of the perception problems is due to media coverage.
"They jump on anything," he said.
"Unless the media helps out, there is nothing we can do," he added.