C-U mayors may restrict liquor sales to avoid riots

Champaign and Urbana could move to restrict liquor sales because the men’s basketball team keeps winning.

The Champaign City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to prepare an amendment to the liquor code authorizing Mayor Gerald Schweighart to restrict alcohol sales in anticipation of civil unrest – most likely before or after an Illini basketball game. Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite said Urbana would take similar action.

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If the amendment passes, Schweighart, who is also city’s liquor commissioner, would be able to restrict hours of liquor establishments in Champaign, the size of drinks served and the types of containers they are served in. He would also be able to require establishments to check for permits before selling multiple kegs to one person.

The stated goals of the new Champaign amendment are to reduce the risk of projectiles, minimize binge drinking and limit large private parties with kegs.

The amendment would require establishments to be notified 24 hours before restrictions – which cannot last longer than 48 hours at a time – go into effect, said City Manager and Deputy Liquor Commissioner Paul Berg.

“We want to create an environment that minimizes the opportunity for violence to start,” Berg said.

Satterthwaite said Urbana would implement a similar plan among campus-area bars. He said there were no plans for any restrictions during the Big Ten Tournament, but that some changes may be possible during the NCAA tournament.

In the last several years, both students and non-students have rioted after major sporting events at campuses nationwide. Most recently, trash cans were set on fire and debris was thrown at the University of Maryland after the school’s basketball team defeated Duke in 2002.

Rioting also occurred at Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue and Minnesota universities in recent years, said Bill Riley, dean of students and Champaign Liquor Commission member. The liquor commission met Thursday to review the amendment.

“We … have recommended it to the City Council,” Riley said. “We would hope it would not be necessary, but the purpose here is to encourage prevention and for people to celebrate responsibly.”

Sgt. Scott Friedlein, who is in charge of liquor enforcement for Champaign Police, said the restrictions would be as much for visitors to the campus as students.

“When you look at riots that happened at other schools, we’ve seen a mix of participants,” Friedlein said. “A lot come from outside the campus and feel like they have a certain level of anonymity and think they won’t get caught.”

Friedlein said that only about 40 percent of all the arrests made on Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day last week were University students.

“We believe our students are the type that will not engage in these types of behaviors,” Friedlein said.

The last time Champaign-Urbana restricted alcohol sales was in the late 1980s, when campus Halloween celebrations resulted in rioting and violence.

Jack Troxell, the owner of the Piccadilly Beverage Shops and a member of the Champaign Liquor Commission, said it was hard to judge the amendment before reading its language, but that any restrictions on sales would be bad for business.

“I think it’s a reasonable assumption that bars will not be selling anything other than in plastic and Styrofoam cups,” Troxell said. “It’s the minority of people, a small group of people, that decide to do something stupid, that creates a problem for everybody else. Hopefully … people will act accordingly and appropriately, and it will be a moot point.”