UPDATE: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Wichita bar owners may have to change the way they do business after the Wichita City Council gave first round approval to changes to a city ordinance.
Many of the new rules are aimed at reducing violence and other recent troubles in Old Town.
A police shooting in march, along with other reports of shots fired on four consecutive weekends in August and September, had business owners there pushing for the changes.
The changes up for final approval next week apply to bars and clubs throughout the city of Wichita, not just those in Old Town. Despite violent incidents in the area, business owners and Wichita Police say Old Town is not a dangerous place to be.
"Even if Old Town is relatively safe, can we make it even more safe? Yes," said Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz. "And I think that's what the move afoot is now to do."
Stolz said violent crimes and shots fired calls in Old Town may grab headlines, but they are not the norm.
"Our number one issue of crime in Old Town still remains to this day the same thing as it was a year ago, which is people leaving valuable items on their car seats and getting their cars broken into," he said.
Still, in response to calls from some Old Town business owners for increased safety in the wake of four-straight violent weekends in Old Town, the city council voted 6-0 to adopt ordinance changes that affect all bars and clubs in the city.
Among the changes: Bars who admit people under the age of 21 can no longer count cover charges toward their required 30 percent in food sales, a loophole Stolz said the city has been wanting to deal with for some time.
"It was a loophole that surfaced after 2009 and we've been intending to fix that," He said. "And since we were changing other ordinances today, we just threw that on as well."
That change doesn't bother Bryan Shapiro, owner of three Old Town bars and restaurants.
"As far as food requirements, 18 to enter and all that stuff, we already meet that requirement," he said. "I'm not concerned about that."
Another provision of the ordinance gives police the authority to disperse crowds gathered in parking lots adjacent to businesses that serve alcohol. It also allows bouncers to help police clear crowds and that does cause some concern for Shapiro.
He worries about the safety of his employees who may be helping to patrol crowded parking lots owned by the city and any financial liability his business may have in that situation.
Shapiro says poorly lit parking lots are where safety problems occur; not the bars.
"I think the biggest safety concern for everybody down there is better lighting and having more police officers present," he said. "Not only in one spot, but dispersed evenly throughout the Old Town area and the surrounding parking lots."
Margo Kelley, who works for a law firm in Old Town doesn't spend much time in the clubs in the district at night. She agreed more patrols are needed.
"The shootings and things like that you hear about kind of scare you a little bit, so you kind of try to avoid that," she said. "That's why I've stopped coming down here."
An attorney who represents about 20 bars and clubs in Wichita said he believes the city council, pushed in his opinion by a small number of Old Town businesses, moved too quickly and did not give other bar owners a chance to sound off on the issue.
"What they've done now is a knee-jerk reaction that's going to essentially target one or two businesses in Old Town and once those one or two businesses are gone, they're going to do something else to target one or two more businesses and essentially they're going to end up killing Old Town," said
Shapiro called for more dialogue between all Old Town business owners, the police and other city officials in order to get everybody on the same page.
"We've even recommended in Old Town that we have quarterly meetings, even when we don't have problems," he said. "And you shouldn't wait for problems before you dial up with people. So we've talked about the creation of a quarterly meeting where stakeholders come together and just talk about how things are going."
City council members made one change to the proposed ordinance. A provision that would require sidewalk vendors to leave Old Town by Midnight was amended to allow them to stay in the area until 1 a.m.
The city council is expected to take final action on the ordinance next Tuesday.
UPDATE: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Wichita city council members have voted 6-0 to adopt a new ordinance aimed at curbing recent violence in Old Town.
The ordinance would allow business owners the ability to patrol city parking lots next to their establishments, and would require sidewalk vendors to close by 1 a.m along with other changes.
It was adopted Tuesday morning on its first reading. The issue will be up for discussion and final action next Tuesday.
During the meeting, several area residents and Old Town businesses owners addressed council members during a public comment session.
KAKE's Phil White was at the special council meeting. Look for updates on this story throughout the day on kake.com and on later KAKE newscasts.
Monday, October 8, 2012
The Wichita city council is being asked to make some changes to city ordinances in order to cut down on violence in Old Town. They are holding a special meeting Tuesday morning.
Repeatedly, police have said the majority of the violence that does happen in Old Town happens when the bars and nightclubs close and everyone is let out into the streets at one time. The city council is being asked to look at a few changes that might help police move people out of the area quicker but would also affect the way some businesses operate.
Chris May's hotdog cart, Relish It, first hit the streets of Wichita two years ago. May says the most difficult part was finding a good spot to set up shop.
"We don't have pedestrian foot traffic like larger cities do,” May said.
But May says business took off when he started parking his cart in Old Town.
"Peak hours are midnight to 2:30 a.m.," May said.
A proposed city ordinance change would force May and all sidewalk vendors to clear out of Old Town by midnight.
"Oh, it would be devastating; 80 percent of my sales are after midnight,” May said.
The change is one of several the city council is looking at in order to help police move crowds out of Old Town after the bars and nightclubs close.
"If you still have clots of people standing around those food vendors, that's kind of a problem,” city council member Janet Miller said.
Another proposed change could effect business owners like Bryan Shapiro, who serve both food and alcohol. In order to allow people under 21 inside, a business has to make at least 30 percent of their profits from food sales.
Right now, some nightclubs that offer buffets are allowed to count fees paid at the door as food sales. If the proposal is passed, that would change.
"It will affect us absolutely, but it's not going to change anything. I'm curious to see what they're response is going to be if they enact that part, if in fact they do, when the problems don't stop,” Doc Howards owner Bryan Shapiro said.
Chris May says he wants to work with city council and police to come up with ways to keep Old Town safe, without crushing his business.
"It took time to find a good spot. I found a good spot and now they want to take it away,” May said.
City council members and business owners we spoke with said another problem is police officers don't have the authority to clear people out of parking lots. A proposed change would give officers the right to tell people to leave and even issue tickets, as long as the parking lot is next to a business that sells alcohol.