City may delay vote on 3 a.m. liquor licenses

Ald. Lakeisha Purchase wants to table ordinance to “find other solutions to the concerns”

The Springfield City Council member whose ward includes much of downtown hopes to delay a scheduled vote June 18 on whether 3 a.m. liquor licenses should be eliminated in favor of a 1 a.m. closing time.

Ward 5 Ald. Lakeisha Purchase – whose ward includes The Alamo, Clique, Celtic Mist Pub and The Gin Mill, four of the six bars that currently have 3 a.m. licenses – told Illinois Times she is “hoping to table the ordinance so we can find other solutions to the concerns.”

click to enlarge City may delay vote on 3 a.m. liquor licenses
PHOTO BY DEAN OLSEN
Josh Wright, co-owner of Clique, one of Springfield's six bars allowed to stay open until 3 a.m. on certain days of the week, speaks to the City Council on June 11 and asks council members to turn down a proposed ordinance that would eliminate 3 a.m. liquor licenses.
The owner of one of the 3 a.m. bars, The Alamo, 115 N. Fifth St., agrees that the process should be slowed down so concerns from police about public safety can be addressed and so any changes don’t “kill downtown.”

Alamo owner Barry Friedman has started an online petition (tinyurl.com/BarPetition) and is also circulating petitions on paper calling for the proposal’s defeat.

The co-owner of another 3 a.m. bar, Clique, 411 E. Washington St., which caters to the gay, bisexual and trans community, worries that the many LGBTQ people who work in the service industry and get off work late at night will lose a safe space to connect and unwind.

And a representative of Unique’s Bar and Grill, a 3 a.m. establishment on the east side, believes the proposed City Council action will lead to even more unsupervised, outdoor “pop-up” drinking parties.

Mayor Misty Buscher said she proposed doing away with liquor licenses that allow six Springfield bars to stay open until 3 a.m. on weekends because of longstanding concerns, and actual occurrences, of violence associated with 3 a.m. bars.

The public-safety risks will only increase after June 30, when the Sangamon County Board’s April 8 decision to prohibit bars outside Springfield and other municipalities from remaining open until 3 a.m. takes effect, the mayor said.

At the time County Board members voted 21-5 to make that decision, citing safety concerns, four of the 18 bars regulated by the county were allowed to stay open until 3 a.m.

The June 18 vote on the City Council could be close. Buscher is the main sponsor of the proposal, Ordinance 2024-231. Five of the 10 alderpersons are listed as cosponsors, though one of them, Ward 8 Ald. Erin Conley, said she is keeping an open mind after being contacted by constituents and bar owners who oppose the plan.

“We need to have a good conversation,” Conley said. “We want Springfield to be seen as a fun and vibrant community.

“I get it,” added Conley, 52. “I was young once.”

But she said police are “feeling very stressed now” in dealing with the proliferation of pop-up parties and other public-safety issues, so she understands their desire to reduce risks to the public and themselves.

Tawahn Armstrong, a representative of Unique’s, told the council that there will be more pop-up parties if 3 a.m. licenses are eliminated.

“I don’t see public safety getting better,” he said.

Buscher said, “I think the pop-up parties are going to go on regardless of whether bars are closing at midnight or 1 or 2 or 3.”

A council member not listed as a cosponsor of the ordinance, Ward 7 Ald. Brad Carlson, said he is leaning toward supporting it.

“I’m not a big fan of government telling people what to do,” Carlson said, “but I’m going to err on the side of public safety.”

Buscher said she proposed that the ordinance take effect Jan. 1, 2025, so current 3 a.m. bars would have time to prepare.

After a June 11 City Council committee of the whole meeting at which 80 people showed up to oppose the change, Buscher told reporters: “I’m not trying to hurt business, but at what cost? … Do we take care of the few or the many?”

Police Chief Kenneth Scarlette said at the meeting, “There is a history of issues at 3 a.m. bars.” But he said he doesn’t want to “punish” any bar owners and their employees and patrons.

“My concern is the safety of the individuals who use our downtown space,” Scarlette said. “My concern is, what’s on the horizon to come because of actions that have been taken elsewhere outside of our community, specifically the county doing away with their 3 a.m. licenses.”

The chief said people from those 3 a.m. bars – which soon will close at 1 a.m. – will join people from communities outside Sangamon County with earlier bar closing times to “flood” Springfield’s 3 a.m. bars and cause problems.

Buscher said she sides with the police on this issue.

“They protect our community,” she told the media after the June 11 meeting. “Every time a citizen needs anything, guess who they call? ... They call the police department. … They carry the whole city on their back. So do I believe them? Yes, I do.”

Friedman said banning all 3 a.m. licenses because of public-safety concerns generated by one or two bars “just seems wrong” and will be counterproductive to the city’s efforts to attract more conventions and visitors to the downtown. Lawmakers, legislative staffers and lobbyists also frequent downtown bars between 1 and 3 a.m. when the General Assembly is in session, Friedman said.

He estimated that between 40% and 55% of his bar’s weekly revenue is generated between 1 and 3 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Eliminating those hours would lead to layoffs and fewer shifts available for workers, he said.

Scott Dahl, director of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, said there’s no data to indicate whether an ordinance doing away with 3 a.m. bar license would lead to Springfield losing conventions.

The availability of 3 a.m. bars “never comes up” in the city’s discussions with organizations scheduling their conventions in Springfield, Dahl said.

 Clique co-owner Josh Wright said his bar can take in the majority of its daily revenue on the days Clique is open until 3 a.m.

Buscher said she would expect bar patrons to adjust their schedules and go to bars earlier if the ordinance is passed.

But Wright said people who work in the hospitality industry and get off work late at night don’t have that option.

“Instead of taking away the nightlife in the capital city, we should be working together to make it better,” Wright said.

The ordinance also would eliminate the temporary 3 a.m. licenses that all Springfield bars can apply for so they can stay open that late during the Illinois State Fair.

Buscher said she doesn’t have a conflict of interest in sponsoring or potentially voting for the proposed ordinance even though her husband, Mike Buscher, has an ownership interest in two Chatham bars with 1 a.m. closing times – The Range Bourbon & Brew and AJ’s Corner.

Springfield Corporation Counsel Greg Moredock wouldn’t give a legal opinion on the matter. But Buscher said, “I don’t have any ownership of anything.”

If Springfield banned 3 a.m. liquor licenses, Buscher said she doesn’t think bars in small towns near Springfield would see fewer customers leaving their bars.

“There are actually 213 (liquor) licenses in the city of Springfield where you can go on any given day and have a cocktail, so I highly doubt that the two establishments you’re trying to reference that he has a portion of ownership – and they’re not 100% his – would be affected.”

Friedman, The Alamo owner, said he also owns a bar in Chatham and has seen customers there leave to drink late into the evening at Springfield’s 3 a.m. bars.

Ward 9 Ald. Jim Donelan and Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer, two of the ordinance’s five aldermanic sponsors, said police protection for their wards is reduced when police need to focus on incidents at 3 a.m. bars or be on alert between 1 and 3 a.m.

“I have nothing against people partying,” Hanauer said. “I have to think about the security of the constituents I serve.”

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
[email protected], 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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