'East Boogie:' East St. Louis might bring back all-night clubs

News-DemocratJune 19, 2013 

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East St. Louis leaders were all ready to create an entertainment district allowing all-night clubs and doubling some liquor license fees until one councilman and the city attorney said the public really needed a chance to weigh in.

A public hearing is set for 6 p.m. June 26.

The new council majority, including Mayor Alvin L. Parks Jr., is proposing an entertainment district called the River's Edge Entertainment District. Their idea is to concentrate night clubs in the downtown area so they can control the environment.

They also propose raising liquor license fees, including from $1,300 every six months for a 24-hour nightclub to $2,600 every six months.

The proposal was made Thursday during an East St. Louis City Council meeting, but Councilman Emeka Jackson-Hicks brought things to an abrupt end when she said they needed to have a public hearing because they were creating an entertainment district and increasing tavern fees. The city attorney agreed.

Parks said people like the nightlife, they like to boogie.

"In the '80's, East St. Louis was known as East Boogie," Parks said.

Since the city started closing liquor businesses at 3 a.m. on weekends, he said people and their money leave East St. Louis and go to St. Louis and other surrounding communities such as Brooklyn and Venice for nightlife. He wants the atmosphere to return to his city, he said.

Jackson-Hicks crafted the legislation that shortened the club hours to 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends. She said what the city has lost is the murders in and surrounding the clubs.

"We needed to get a handle on things. It is our jobs to make the community as safe as possible for our citizens, corporate entities and visitors, too," she said.

She said she has heard of no killings around the clubs since the hours were limited. She said an all-night party is unnecessary in a city where the police department is already taxed with lots of crime.

She encouraged residents to come out to the hearing if they want to preserve the peace.

Parks said the public supports longer hours. When the city hosted a meeting before, he said 28 people spoke and only seven were against all-night clubs.

East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Floore declined comment. City Manager Deletra Hudson said she was on vacation last week and needed more time to research the proposal before commenting.

Parks and the city were pressured by police, prosecutors and lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, when the city allowed clubs to remain open all night because they were attracting already inebriated patrons from across the region who were driving drunk and bringing violence to the city. Multiple murders were committed in and around the city's clubs.

Parks said the spring municipal election changed the City Council's composition and he believes he has the votes to pass it and make it reality by July 1. He said the district would be from the city limits to the north, the Mississippi River to the west, south to Sauget and east to 10th Street. He said it is about 95 percent contained within the downtown business district.

Rhonda Moore, an East St. Louis resident, said clubs don't need to be open 24-7.

"There's stuff already going on with them closing early. And I think that it would be worse if they are open longer. Why do they need to be open 24-7?" Moore said.

Resident Stephanie Bush said there should be a compromise, maybe restricting the patrons younger than 30 until they are shown to be peaceful.

"We are a depressed community. We need jobs. This would create some jobs. I think we need an equitable solution," Bush said.

For night clubs that stay open 24 hours, the fee would increase from $1,300 to $2,600 every six months if Parks' proposal passes. Those serving beer and wine until 3 a.m. would see their fee increase from $400 to $800. Restaurants that remain open 24 hours would see an increase from $400 to $800 per six-month period.

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