Lawmaker proposes last call at 4 a.m. during the RNCby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
A Minnesota House proposal would let bars stay open until 4 a.m. during the Republican National Convention in September. The bill would apply to businesses within 10 miles of the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul.
But many residents in St. Paul are reacting coolly to the idea. The critics include residents worried about their sleep.
St. Paul, Minn. — Love it or hate it, St. Paul isn't exactly known for its downtown nightlife.
Revelers are more apt to hang out at any one of the corner bars spread across the city's neighborhoods. In many cases, those bars are situated next to houses filled with people praying for some shut-eye.
"It's only going to make it worse if it's until 4 a.m.," said Tait Danielson-Castillo, director of the district council serving the Frogtown neighborhood.
He said when the state allowed cities to extend hours from 1 to 2 a.m., it created a nightmare for residents. They've complained about bar-hoppers shouting and fighting while emptying into the parking lots.
Danielson-Castillo said he's already contacted legislators and the St. Paul police chief about his concerns.
"I'd be willing to bet some of our bars, out of courtesy, won't go to 4 a.m. But some of them (who) aren't as courteous will take the chance to stay open later and make more money, at the same time causing havoc for those who have to work the next morning," he said.
The bill would extend bar hours for 11 days starting Aug. 29. St. Paul police estimate those two extra hours a night would cost the department about $500,000.
City officials said they'd rather see police focus on securing the convention area rather than responding to early-morning drunken disturbances across the city.
Erin Dady, the city's convention planning director, said the push for the 4 a.m. closing time didn't come from either St. Paul or Minneapolis, or the groups in charge of planning the RNC.
"Both the Republican National Committee, as well as the host committee -- the organizers of the convention -- are all pleased with our 2 a.m. bar closing and think that will be plenty of time to enjoy the city when all the visitors are in town," said Dady.
But state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a Democrat from Minneapolis by way of New York, said it's important to accommodate the tens of thousands of out-of-towners during the convention.
"I think chasing people out of bars before they're ready to go is not a good image for a city to have," Kahn said.
Kahn said the bill would merely give the cities permission to pass their own ordinances allowing the later closing times.
"If the city doesn't think it's to their economic advantage, I assume they won't do it. We think it's to the state's economic advantage," she said.
She said she decided on the 10-mile radius to make sure to include Bloomington. A similar but failed bill in the Senate would have extended the later hours to the seven-county metro area.
If you're wondering which lobbying group is pushing for the 4 a.m. last call, Jim Farrell said don't look at him. Farrell heads the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association. The proposal would also allow liquor stores to sell alcohol on the two Sundays covered by the bill.
"There's issues with that. And it's pretty arrogant to do that without having a public discussion, at least have a chance for public input," Farrell said.
Farrell knows bar and restaurant owners who have mixed feelings about the later hours. Some see it as a chance to make extra cash during a sluggish economy, when many customers are eating out less.
"I suppose at first blush everybody thinks, oh, I suppose you'll have the chance to make more money," Farrell said. "What they fail to understand is that they'll have the chance to incur more costs."
That dilemma of profits vs. extra labor costs is on the minds of the two brothers who own Senor Wong in downtown St. Paul.
Owner Son Truong said he picked the location because there was nothing like it in St. Paul. He often found himself going to Minneapolis for nightlife and ambience.
So while he thinks the extended hours are a great idea to cash in on the Republicans, he's not sure if there's even a demand for it in the area closest to the convention site.
"You know, if every day was busy until 4, I can't see anything wrong with that, but Mondays, I don't know," he said. "It's a Monday night in St. Paul."
Truong may not have to worry about finding extra help for those late nights. The bill still has a long way to go before becoming law.
- All Things Considered, 03/31/2008, 4:54 p.m.