The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Champaign-Urbana should use Unofficial to community’s benefit

Yes, on Unofficial there is, in fact, drinking — underage drinking for that matter. That’s different from last weekend, how?

We are a drinking campus, and that’s not going to cease.

Just the same, it’s as impossible to stop the flood of nearly 20,000 people into Champaign-Urbana this weekend. Frankly, it shouldn’t be stopped. Rather it should be molded into something beneficial for the whole community.

Twenty thousand people means 20,000 more people who have to eat at local restaurants twice a day for at least two days, 20,000 people who may need to buy a green T-shirt from a local store and 20,000 people who need convenience stores.

Hardly, if ever, is a booming tourism industry understood to be detrimental to the local economy.

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Despite underage drinking, I am shocked that the city hasn’t capitalized on this event by expanding it into a community celebration similar to that of Mardi Gras, complete with outdoor concerts, parades or other vendors to sell stuff to the herd of consumers headed our direction.

For Mardi Gras, the population of New Orleans and the surrounding cities nearly doubles for the weekend’s festivities. Mobile, Alabama saw an economic impact of $225 million in 2004.

During Mardi Gras, even the sale of inexpensive beads supplies a huge boost in revenue to several retailers in the area. This also reflects the boom of tee shirt sales here.

On the other hand, there are costs to the festivities: cleaning up trash, contracting outside vendors and staffing security, to name a few. The price seems daunting at first, but the growth of tourism to Champaign-Urbana would help the economy, offset the costs and attract new businesses.

With its size now, safety and security are already a concern for police and campus officials, and it is true that worry would only be augmented as the celebration grew. But does it have to?

A normal weekend of partying on this campus can be as crazy, wild and out of control as Unofficial, the major differences being that Unofficial parties are outside instead of inside, and the parties will occur in the a.m. instead of the p.m.

If the problem really is that students move their partying outdoors, then why do they stop people under 21 from entering the bars? Drinking inside a bar is much safer than drinking outside, as bartenders monitor the well-being of drinkers they serve, and people typically drink less.

Judging by the citations issued last year, security’s only real purpose is to issue underage drinking citations and catch people with alcohol out in public — neither of which I would consider dire safety concerns. I won’t be as naive to think that some activity on this day isn’t dangerous; people drop off balconies and start more fights. But this isn’t too disproportionate to regular weekends. It’s only more visible because it’s day.

The point is that the perplexing state of overly increased police presence on Unofficial isn’t necessary. If anything, the extra security promotes a sense of rebellion in students because the University and community treats the day so unfavorably. Students would be less likely to be deviant if security wasn’t so heightened.

If the community came together to transform Unofficial into a celebration like Mardi Gras, as a worthwhile and profitable event, security problems could also decrease.

I want to be clear, though, the monetary gains of expanding the holiday would not be at the expense of people’s safety because that always takes precedence.

Maybe instead of working so hard to impede this tradition, try seeing it as an advantageous potential not yet discovered.

_Ryan is a sophomore in LAS._

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