July 31, 2014

Elyria
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City to bar owners: Behave or the booze goes

ELYRIA — City officials have a message for bar owners: Curb the crime in and around down­town establishments or face the possibility of a dry down­town Elyria.

Prohibiting alcohol in the area is not something anyone wants to see happen, but the shootings and fights that take place downtown nearly every weekend are stretching the manpower of the Elyria Police Department. So instead of forcing city officials to take drastic measures, Mayor Bill Grace said he simply wants bar owners to police themselves.

“Criminal activity is being condoned and nurtured in these establishments and this has to stop,” he said. “We are getting to the point where the owners of these establishments will force the city to take dras­tic measures.”

He is not alone in his stance. Councilman Mark Craig, I-4th Ward, would like City Council to discuss prohibiting the sale or consumption of alcohol in the downtown area. He made the referral to Council President Forrest Bullock, D-2nd Ward, on Monday with hopes the issue soon will make it on the agenda of Council’s Community Development Committee.

“Due to the recent rash of violence downtown, which seems to directly correlate with the consumption and sale of alcohol, immediate measures should be considered to revive the downtown area and make it safe for businesses and fami­lies once again,” Craig said.

Craig’s proposal would allow event coordinators to request special permission to serve alcohol, and the requests would be evaluated on a case­by- case basis. While some would see the measure as dras­tic, Craig said it’s about making the downtown area a destina­tion for families and busi­nesses.

Such a prohibition, however, would hurt businesses such as Moss’ Prime Rib and Spaghetti House. There, owner Sandi Laubenthal said, restricting alcohol sales would bankrupt her.

“Anything close to that would turn downtown into a 100 percent dead zone,” she said.

Laubenthal has been a staunch supporter of revital­izing downtown by encourag­ing more restaurants to move into the area. Prohibiting alcohol would put an end to any idea of a thriving down­town, she said. And other drinking estab­lishments that are longtime fixtures of downtown believe such a ban would mean the end of their businesses.

“It’s not the bars. It’s the drug activity that goes on around the bars,” said Ginger Sherrill, manager of Pudge’s Place on Broad Street. “If the police would clean up that, we wouldn’t have a problem. We have so many good people that come in and just want to have a good time.”

Sherrill said her bar has security officers that work Fri­day and Saturday nights as well as security cameras that she can view from her home. She would rather see the city put in place an ordinance requiring downtown bars to have on-premise security. It would be costly, but far less expensive than making the liquor license useless, she said.

“We’ve been a fixture in downtown for 25 years,” she said. “We are not a fly-by­night bar that has just come in trying to make a few dollars and doesn’t care about the town.”

However, city officials said there has been a rash of crim­inal incidents in the past two months at or near Elyria’s downtown bars that can not be ignored.

“There is a responsibility that comes along with a per­mit to sell alcohol,” Grace said. “Maybe bar owners need to close earlier or do a better job of screening patrons to keep problem customers out. Simply be less tolerant of criminal activity.”

Council President Forrest Bullocks, D-2nd Ward, whose ward includes the downtown area, said drying the area out is a drastic measure the city should only see as its last resort. Instead, the current route of challenging liquor licenses when they come up for renewal or transfer is the best way the city can let bar owners know they are serious about cracking down on nui­sance bars. “We can still have checks and balances in place without punishing the entire area,” he said. “That is something I would not want to see done. I don’t want to hurt the busi­nesses that don’t have the problems.”

Recent incidents reported by Elyria police

  • May 8: Two Elyria teenagers and one Lorain teenager were shot in the Toy Box Nightclub, 581 Broad St., by an unknown assailant who fired seven shots from a .25­caliber handgun inside the bar. Crack cocaine was also found inside the bar.
  • April 4: A man brandished a gun at security staff and patrons at Uncle Vic’s nightclub following a bar fight.
  • March 27: A woman was arrested for hitting another woman in the head with a glass during an argument at Ely’s Inn.
  • March 25: Police were called because a man was allegedly exposing himself inside Ely’s Inn and was waving a gun at patrons outside the bar.
  • March 13: A man was arrested for pulling a knife on two people outside Ely’s Inn in the 100 block of East Avenue at Depot Street.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.