Champaign, Urbana could restrict liquor sales

The mayors of Champaign and Urbana now have the power to restrict liquor sales in order to prevent celebratory riots, after proposed amendments passed both towns’ city councils this week.

Nearly identical amendments to the cities’ liquor codes allow Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart and Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite to place restrictions on hours a business is allowed to sell alcohol, restrict the size of drinks that could be sold and disallow the sale of drinks in glass or aluminum containers.

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In Urbana, bottles of liquor larger than one liter could still be sold. Officials said smaller containers such as beer bottles have been more likely to be thrown in past riots.

The new rules were approved by the Urbana City Council on Monday and the Champaign City Council on Tuesday.

Some have expressed fears that celebratory riots would occur if the Illinois men’s basketball team advances to the Final Four or wins the national championship. Riots have occurred in East Lansing, Mich., and College Park, Md., after Michigan State University and the University of Maryland won national championships.

A thrown beer bottle permanently injured a Northwestern University student during Halloween celebrations in Campustown in 1985. Similar alcohol restrictions and an increased police presence were put into place during Halloween in subsequent years.

The new rules could be applied to bars and restaurants as well as liquor stores or other businesses that sell alcohol throughout the twin cities; however, Satterthwaite said Urbana was primarily concerned about the area near the University campus.

Satterthwaite said Urbana did not foresee any problems occurring before the Final Four, but that the city would keep a watchful eye. If any restrictions were put in place, he said affected businesses would be notified at least 24 hours in advance, likely by a phone call.

The amendment, which has been the subject of much debate in Champaign since the City Council voted to place it on the agenda last week, had the support of both the Council and the city’s liquor commission. But Matt Varble, who will be running for the Champaign City Council in April’s election, spoke out against it.

“Heavy-handed government won’t stop people who want to cause trouble,” Varble said. “The problem clearly isn’t restaurants and bars; it’s people who will use any excuse to be destructive.”

Schweighart dismissed the charges of over-governing and said the changes to the liquor code merely gave him powers he should have had already.

“We’re going to use good sense about this,” Schweighart said. “I’m not going to go into a bar with 500 people in it and shut down the bar and send them into the street to riot … I think this is a very minor change to an industry that’s already heavily regulated.”