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Buffalo's Chippewa Street Could Become An Adult Entertainment District | News

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Buffalo's Chippewa Street Could Become An Adult Entertainment District
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BUFFALO, NY - "I think we need to begin having a conversation," began Buffalo Police B District Chief Brian Patterson, as he addressed a meeting of about two dozen downtown bar and restaurant owners Monday.

"Anyone who has spent any time on Chippewa Street knows an element exists which brings with it excessive loitering and a propensity for violence in the late hours," Patterson said.

And while many of those who make their livelihood in the area agree things have gotten out of hand, the ideas brought forth to find solutions provided some spirited debate among them.

One idea being considered is to designate Chippewa and surrounding streets as an "adult entertainment district", and restrict access to those areas at night solely to those over 21.

Downtown developer Rocco Termini, who also attended the meeting, mentioned that this is done in the popular Beale Street district of Memphis, Tennessee. "One of the things they do in Memphis is to close the street off on both ends of Beal Street, and there's cop cars on each end ....they check ID's and everybody on the street is 21," Termini claimed.

To avoid the constitutional challenges that might arise from closing a public street to citizens under 21, some bar owners want the city of Buffalo to pass laws which would eliminate the attraction for the younger crowd.

This could include a prohibition on "co-mingling", a practice by where bars admit patrons under 21 ...but don't allow them to purchase alcohol.

Jay Manno, who is President of the Buffalo Entertainment District and the co-owner of Soho bar, would be in favor of re-claiming an older crowd similar to when Chippewa Street began to take off in popularity in the 1990's.

"I've been here sixteen years for the first fourteen, when it was 21 and over, everybody was thriving.. now it's ugly," Manno said.

But bar owners who depend co-mingling say eliminating young people is a merely a solution in search of a problem.

"If you look at much of the recent violent activity, none of it was done by underage people," said Bayou nightclub owner Adam March, who holds regular under 21 nights.

"They add to our business, they bring people downtown, they give us an opportunity to make more money, they put people on the street, and they're not causing crime in our place," March said.

"The problem is that for as many people as they bring downtown, they've scared away twice as many adults that have money and spend money," countered Manno, who says he's even lost employees because they are concerned about their safety on Chippewa.

Some, like bar owner and restaurateur Mark Croce, suggest restricting the number of liquor licenses issued in the Chippewa entertainment district, thereby limiting the number of businesses strictly involved in serving of alcohol and encouraging more of a mix of restaurants.

"Maybe we have to have a limit to the number of licenses within a certain radius of this place because otherwise we're fighting over the same customers. It's those folks that put up a banner on the front of their place and do whatever they have to, to throw a party to generate revenue on the weekend who are bringing us all down," Croce said.

Fewer bars, Croce says, might also reduce the number and nature of crowds which Chief Patterson concedes can at times be "overwhelming" to his officers.

Others urged police to adopt a no tolerance policy--stopping people for everything from failure to wear seat belts, to not using a turn signal, to jaywalking, ... allowing them to be checked for warrants and such, with the hope of removing those with checkered records while discouraging others who might be lawbreakers from attempting to enter the area in the first place.

"This would keep out the riff-raff," Termini said.

Rochester introduced such a zero tolerance policy in 2007, placing police officers on virtually every corner of its entertainment districts.

And while the aggressive police presence and enforcement of all manner of violations was credited with keeping the areas safer, the program also resulted in multi-million dollar overtime expenditures, ...while doubling the caseloads for prosecutors and overwhelming the city's court system.

Termini, meantime, pitched once again a proposal for bars to close at 1 AM, prefacing his suggestion as one which, "I know a lot of you guys will disagree with."

He was right.

It went over like a lead balloon.

"Coming in here and saying shut your business down three hours early is, I don't think, really a reasonable thing to say," said one bar owner, who noted that while Termini owns seven buildings downtown, not one of them is a bar.

"Buy a bar down here and invest and then you can tell me what you think. But your telling us how to run our business and it's not your money on the line," the bar owner said.

But Termini noted that among his holdings are more than 300 downtown apartments, filled with tenants who he claims fear for their safety and are afraid to venture to Chippewa Street in particular.

"You guys have to think about the whole community and not just the bars. And if there's no community, there's no bars ...and if we don't change we're going to be be like dinosaurs and nobody will be left on the street," Termini said.

Click on the video icon to watch the story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and  Photojournalist Norm Fisher.

 

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