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'Comminglers' in entertainment district face music as city fine-tunes crackdown; Thursday-only limit sets stage for sunset

The under-21 crowd has spent its last legal weekend in downtown bars.

Mayor Byron W. Brown and the Common Council have agreed to limit access to taverns and bars by those under 21 to Thursday nights.

Today, the Council also is expected to approve a sunset provision that in six months would end Thursday night "commingling," as well, if no further legislative action is taken.

It was that sunset provision that led to Brown's endorsement of the ordinance. He did not think the original ordinance unanimously adopted by the Council on March 20 went far enough, because it allowed commingling of underage patrons one night a week -- Thursday.

But the mayor approved the ordinance with the sunset provision for immediate passage, and the Council is expected to approve the change today. At least six Council votes are needed. Erie County's Department of Environment and Planning also has reviewed and approved the measure.

It will become law as soon as Brown signs the provision upon Council approval. When it goes into effect, those under 21 would be prohibited from being inside drinking establishments within the newly designated Downtown Entertainment Review District every night but Thursday.

The Downtown Entertainment Review District includes the area from Main Street to Elmwood Avenue and from Seneca Street to Tupper Street.

"This is an ordinance that is addressing public safety issues. The safety of our youth is more important to us than the profit of drinking establishments," said Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen, sponsor of the bill.

Brown said there will be stepped-up enforcement Thursdays, with uniformed and plainclothes officers in the entertainment district. Should police find that an establishment is in serious violation of the ordinance, they would have the authority to shut it down, the mayor said.

The sunset provision allows all parties to see how the ordinance is working.

"After six months of review, if things were not working well, the Thursday provision to allow commingling would end, and there would be no commingling at all seven days a week," Brown said.

Pridgen said the sunset provision puts the onus on tavern owners to keep underage people out of their establishments.

"It gives us the opportunity to evaluate during this period whether this ordinance does indeed accomplish what our goal is, and that is for a safer entertainment district and a clear message that the city will protect its citizens," Pridgen said.

He said community groups have volunteered to be in the district on Thursday nights to help keep the peace.

"Our goal is to reduce the amount of alcohol-related criminal and violent activities involving those under 21 years of age," Pridgen said. "This ordinance obviously is not going to change every problem that there might be in the entertainment district or anywhere else. However, it's a step in the right direction."