Proposal to curb St. Louis downtown crime could impact when new bars, venues close
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - At Whiskey on Washington, owner David Shanks is looking forward to what the future of downtown nightlife could become, especially along Washington Ave.
“I think that the city is heading in the right direction, and I wouldn’t want to put a cap on an opportunity for anyone and how we attract more businesses to come,” said Shanks.
Yet, a new proposal to change the city’s downtown zoning code could mean future bars, nightclubs and venues will have to close their doors sooner than in the past.
“In this case, one of the proposed changes that have come out is ending the new 3 a.m. liquor licenses in those high residential areas, and bars or big entertainment venues over 10,000 square feet where they’re physically situated near these residential areas,” said Jason Hall, CEO of Greater St. Louis Inc.
Hall tells News 4 the existing downtown zoning code has not been updated since 1947. Meanwhile, new residential areas, businesses and other development have popped up significantly since, and they wanted to look at ways to move the downtown area into the future.
“So we can have a community process on what the next generation of our zoning looks like to make sure our downtown is safe, to make sure downtown is vibrant and reflects that it is a mixed-used neighborhood today of residences and a commercial corridor and entertainment and offices,” said Hall.
The proposal would not impact areas around stadiums, casinos or the convention center. Nor would it affect existing venues that are operating in the area until 3 a.m.
Hall says it is a proposal that is backed by businesses, residents and aldermen representing the downtown area. They believe it will ultimately help curb downtown violence and crime.
“I think we’ve seen particularly over COVID-19, the high-profile issues associated with some of these kinds of establishments, with gun violence, the late night partying that’s been highly disruptive to what is fundamentally a residential area as well,” said Hall.
Shanks, who is a downtown resident as well, sees this issue differently.
“I think that people move into cities and move into their downtowns, into their high rises and they expect bars and nightclubs…they expect the nightlife to be going on around them,” said Shanks. “Crime should not be associated with time. If you would’ve closed an hour earlier, you’re saying that something would not have happened. I don’t really think that’s fair, and I don’t think that you should want every spot getting out at the same time as well.”
While the latest his business is open until 1 a.m. on the weekends, he believes there will be an opportunity to extend hours in the future as the downtown region grows
“I want that option, and I also want other businesses to have that option. I think that that is something that will make a person not want to open, and I think that we need all of our businesses to be open and thriving in order for our city to grow,” said Shanks. “You’re also talking about jobs. When you’re open longer, you hire people.”
Kimberly Pitliangas, with Thaxton Speakeasy tells News 4 they also do not believe this will deter crime.
“Prohibiting 3 a.m. licenses does nothing to address crime. Criminal activity doesn’t cease to occur when the bars close. I think the process to get a 3 a.m. should be rigorous. However, it seems a bit short-sighted of the city to be willing to give up that revenue stream,” she shared in a statement.
Hall says he understands concerns about the proposal.
“A lot of the ideas I’ve heard in response is, ‘Hey it’s not bars, it’s this.’ Well, with the public safety challenges we must confront in downtown and in this region…what you’re not hearing is that those are mutually exclusive ideas,” said Hall. “We need lots of solutions to the public safety challenges we’re facing.”
Hall added, “But what I would say is that if we don’t solve this public safety crisis and challenge, we are going to lose the residential momentum that we have. We will lose the businesses that we have. We will weaken our ability to compete nationally for conventions and other critical investments coming to this region.”
News 4 asked Public Safety Director Dr. Dan Isom’s perspective on whether closing future bars and club venues early could improve downtown safety.
“No matter what the law changes or legislation is passed, I think the administration has really leaned into trying to work with business owners as much as we can, and if we can’t, holding them accountable,” said Isom.
A spokesperson for the Mayor’s office says they are reviewing the suggestions from Greater St. Louis, Inc. In the same response, her office touted the city’s ongoing efforts to communicate with bar owners and hold irresponsible ones accountable.
Hall says Greater St. Louis Inc. will be working with PGAV Planners to survey the public and downtown stakeholders to draft the proposal to go before the City Planning Commission. That plan would then move to the Board of Alderman for a vote before reaching the Mayor’s desk.
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