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Negative perceptions of city affecting businesses

Date: 3/10/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Negative media reports, not enough police presence and the influx of teens from Hartford, Conn., were just three of the issues bar and restaurant owners brought up at a meeting of the Planning and Economic Development Committee of the City Council on Friday about what they would do to change the perception of downtown Springfield -- perceptions that are affecting their business.

The meeting, called by City Councilor Bud Williams, was a reaction to the release of new regulations for entertainment licenses and Mayor Domenic Sarno s announcement that he would like to ban all 18-plus events in the city s bars and clubs.

Williams said he was looking for ideas from the businesses that he could share with other city officials.

Frank Caruso, an attorney who represents several clubs and whose office is in the entertainment district, said there are people who come to the district who shouldn t feel welcome in Springfield.

There is a bad element trying to control the entertainment district, he added.

Russell Denver, president of the Affiliated Chamber of Commerce of Greater Springfield, asked, Why are there 16 to 18 year-olds in downtown at 2 a.m.?

Part of the answer is due to the curfew imposed on Hartford teens by authorities there to clean up problems in their downtown. Seeking a place to go, they head north to Springfield.

Looking around the packed meeting room, Cindy Anzalotti, president of City Stage and Symphony Hall, said, Everyone here is doing everything to make this work. All are trying to pitch in.

Anzalotti noted the building that housed the Asylum nightclub at Main and Worthington Streets is a disaster and detracts from the district. Williams said he would alert the Office of Code Enforcement about it.

What a number of the businesspeople said is they are more interested in developing an adult clientele for downtown -- office workers who stay after work for drinks or dinner or people who come to see a show, attend the Symphony or root for the Falcons and stay for dinner.

Rudi Scherff of the Student Prince said the city should work on the bad joints.

Our patrons are intimidated when they read about a shooting, he said.

Scherff would like to see an effort to create a happy hour downtown to encourage office workers to stay. Although state regulations forbid the discounting of alcohol, bargain food items could be the focus of a happy hour.

Anzalotti called for the creation of a taxi stand within the district so patrons could easily find a cab, rather than drive themselves home.

Several of the owners called for Worthington and Bridge Streets to be blocked to vehicular traffic and for a greater police presence.

Williams also noted that panhandling must be curtailed.

There has to be zero tolerance, he said.

When Williams said he would call another meeting to get reactions about Springfield taking advantage of the proposed local options to impose its own meal and hotel tax, he received an immediate negative reaction from the room.

Caruso said, That would be a great way to drive the rest of the people out of downtown Springfield.