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Checking in: Efforts continue to improve nightlife scene in St. Charles

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(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina (center), who also serves as the city's liquor commissioner, addresses Joe Klein, an attorney representing the Hotel Baker, as commission members Rita Payleitner and Chuck Amenta look on during a commission meeting Monday.

ST. CHARLES – Mayor Ray Rogina’s vision for downtown St. Charles is that of a fun, interesting place where visitors don’t have to worry about such nuisance behavior as fights.

“I’m not looking to roll the carpets up at 10 p.m.,” he said. “What I don’t want is the rowdiness.”

Improving the downtown nightlife has been a focus of the St. Charles City Council since August 2012, when then-Mayor Don DeWitte asked aldermen to change the closing time for bars from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m. in response to a weekend especially busy with fights.

Bar owners convinced the council to give them a chance to improve the situation. Collectively, they implemented different procedures to help curb overserving and the unwanted behaviors that came with the intoxicated crowds.

Although not everything has been effective, St. Charles Police Chief Jim Lamkin said, he credits the bar owners for taking responsibility.

Lamkin hasn’t recently compiled statistics on the downtown nightlife, but he noted some positives in an update to aldermen in late March.

Fight calls were reduced by more than 60 percent, he reported, and establishments were initiating disturbance calls, which generally stemmed from businesses asking patrons to leave or refusing them entry.

“The bars, many of them, took ownership of the problem,” Lamkin said last week. “I think they’ve made a difference. ... We don’t get the fight calls that we did.”

Meanwhile, the City Council has created the St. Charles Liquor Control Commission, a group of two aldermen and two citizens that advises Rogina in his capacity as liquor commissioner.

Second Ward Alderman Rita Payleitner said her role on the commission is similar to her job as alderman, which is to “protect and, when necessary, improve the image of St. Charles.”

The commission has met four times, once for the sole purpose of conducting a hearing on an alleged liquor license violation.

Rogina issues the rulings, but he said he appreciates his colleagues’ input on such matters because they present different perspectives for him to consider.

“I like that dialogue,” he said.

Julie Lundeen of Lundeen’s Liquors is one of the few liquor license holders who has spoken to the commission. She, too, appreciates the dialogue the group provides.

“We’re always supportive and excited when there’s a liquor commission in a community where we’re doing business,” she said. “I think it just opens up a lot of lines of communication between actual license holders and, eventually, the [City] Council.”

In addition to considering Lundeen’s now withdrawn request for a drive-thru window, the commission has discussed a proposal for late-night liquor license permits for 1 and 2 a.m. closings.

In a roundabout way, Rogina said, the late-night permits – which are proposed to be subject to annual review – would settle the sometimes tricky question of whether an establishment is a bar or a restaurant.

Establishments accepting the baseline midnight closing time would be considered restaurants, he said, and those with a 2 a.m. permit would be viewed as bars.

Monday, the commission reviewed a draft of the proposed ordinance, which will eventually need City Council approval.

Rogina commented on the thoroughness of the discussion.

“We added an extra layer of protection to the licensees to be fair and diligent in making a decision,” he said.

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