Editorial: 3 a.m. bar licensing crackdown could put a dent in chaos in downtown St. Louis | Editorial

By the Editorial Board

It is high time for City Hall to recognize the fundamental changes that have transformed downtown in a way that has rendered old bar licensing and zoning regulations obsolete. Back when downtown was a place where office workers ruled the day and bars ruled the night, it might have made sense to allow some places to stay open until 3am. But now that the city center is a major residential and family attraction, it’s time to make sure the well-being of residents doesn’t take a back seat to outdated rules that encourage lawlessness.

Regional trade organization Greater St. Louis Inc. has thrown its weight behind growing calls from downtown interests to impose stricter limits on bar and nightclub opening hours as a way to crack down on gunfire , crime and chaos. While such changes won’t fix everything wrong with Downtown, there’s reason to believe they could seriously make the problem worse.

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“Residents need to know it’s safe and they need to feel safe,” says Greater St. Louis general manager Jason Hall. The main culprit, he and others say, are bars that are allowed to stay open until 3 a.m.

They are not the only culprits, however. Remember the infamous story of Reign, a club on Washington Avenue that called itself a “fine dining” restaurant that was licensed like most bars to stay open until 1:30 a.m. with them. The resulting gunfire sent bullets through the windows of surrounding lofts and businesses. Since Reign’s closure, this section of Washington Avenue is now a reasonably peaceful place.

Club owners are unhappy with the proposed new restrictions, insisting bars and nightlife are what put the city center back on the map. There is an element of truth in what they say, but no one considered behavior that today can lead to shootings, drag races and drug dealing.

Part of the problem is that downtown zoning reflects a bygone era when no one thought of lofts and residential amenities. Historic renovation tax credits have paved the way for the transformation of old buildings into highly desirable places to live. City regulations have yet to catch up with the new downtown residential landscape — or the abuses that include Airbnb-style short-term rentals to host late-night parties.

Because most bars have to close at 1:30 a.m., the few bars that are allowed to stay open until 3 a.m. have become more attractive to people who aren’t ready to stop partying.

But does it make sense to continue to accommodate these relatively few pre-dawn customers at the expense of everyone else? The short answer is no. This is why the Planning Commission and the College of Aldermen of the city must agree on a proposed solution that updates the city center to today’s reality.

About James K. Bonnette

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