July 26, 2010

Park 6 owner calls for ordinance to prevent loitering outside of Racine bars

Thomas Holmes, owner of Park 6 on Sixth Street, will fight for his bar's life this week during a hearing before the Common Council's Public Safety and Licensing Committee.

Park 6 is facing a "due-process hearing" before the committee because of repeated police calls to the bar and a shooting outside of the bar on May 20. Nearly every Friday and Saturday night a large crowd of people congregates near Park and Sixth streets and draws 10+ police officers to the area for public safety.

But in an interview over the weekend, Holmes said the city's case against Park 6 is weak, unfair and possibly illegal. Here's why Holmes says his bar should be able to stay open:

1. He's taken several steps to address city concerns and control his crowds. He's changed how people leave Park 6 to minimize crowds along Sixth Street, raised the bar's minimum age to 25, installed security cameras and personally asks patrons to be mindful of concerns from the city and neighboring businesses.

2. Park 6 is being punished, in part, for doing the right thing. They'll turn away undesirable patrons from the bar, but the people will continue to hang out on the street. Holmes wants a city ordinance that would allow police to ticket people who are prevented from entering a bar, but continue to hang around outside. That would help Park 6, which can be selective of the crowd inside, but has no control over who's outside on the sidewalks.

3. Holmes said the shooting on Sixth Street on May 20th remains under investigation. No one is quite sure what happened, he said, and it's unfair to hold Park 6 accountable for a shooting the bar may have had nothing to do with. Police confirmed last week the shooting remains under investigation.

4. Holmes said he would have liked an opportunity to address the Public Safety and Licensing Committee before they sent him to a due process hearing. The committee voted unanimously to try and take Park 6's liquor license without notifying Holmes that it may take that action. 

5. Closing down one bar doesn't solve the problem, Holmes said, it simply moves people to the next bar. We've heard this from other bar owners. The city may crack down on certain establishments, but as soon as they do people don't stop going out. They simply find a new place to drink.

Along with talking to Holmes, I visited Sixth Street Saturday night to observe the crowds coming out of Park 6 and other Sixth Street bars. Here's a few observations:

1. There are four bars near Park and Sixth streets. They include: Henry and Wanda's, The Place on 6th, Park 6 and Raytown Roadhouse. Henry and Wanda's and Raytown Roadhouse closed before the crowds gathered outside.

2. There was a large crowd of people gathered along Sixth Street from about 1:30 to at least 2:30 a.m. (when I left). About a dozen police officers were called to the intersection to control the crowd and get people moving to their cars.

3. The Park 6 crowd, mostly from a private party, left the bar fairly quickly. Holmes lets customers out of a side door so they can reach their cars on Water Street without having to exit onto Sixth Street. That cut down on the number of people milling around on the north side of the street.

4. The Place on 6th crowd left the bar and then packed the south side of Sixth Street. A crowd of about 200 people was hanging outside of the bar, making noise and getting into the occasional fight. The only semi-serious incident I saw was two women briefly fighting before their friends pulled them apart.

5. The most obnoxious problem with the crowd was the noise. Lots of people were yelling at each other and cars were revving engines and blasting music. One complaint about Sixth Street is that apartments above stores are going unrented because of the noise on the weekends. After what I saw, I wouldn't rent there.

6. It seems like so many people come out of the bars at the same time it creates a traffic jam. One idea floated out there is a staggered closing time for the bars to try and limit crowds. Holmes' idea of an anti-loitering ordinance may also work. The problems, and potentially dangerous situations, do seem to arise outside of the bars, not inside. If the city can figure out a way to mobilize crowds around bar closing time, it could reduce the need for police and the potential for something tragic.