Champaign pledges to focus more on house parties than bars on Unofficial

By John McDermott

The Liquor Advisory Commission met Thursday morning to discuss various regulations and police tactics for Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day.

As expected, Liquor Commissioner and Mayor Gerald Schweighart, announced he will declare an emergency order for March 6, thus mandating that all Champaign campus bars raise their entry age to 21.

However, this restriction will be limited to the designated “campus zone” from Springfield Ave. to Florida Avenue and from First Street to Wright Street, as bars located in downtown Champaign have historically remained uninvolved in Unofficial festivities. The commission plans to notify bar owners of the emergency order tomorrow.

Other regulations include bars being unable to sell straight shots of hard alcohol and a ban on keg permits issued for March 6 to ensure a limit of one keg per private residence.

Schweighart said he expects this year’s bar activity to be more controlled due to heightened police presence and establishments reducing their Unofficial-related advertising. He applauded bar owner Scott Cochrane for his role in downplaying the event’s importance.

“Scott Cochrane has been very active in trying to reduce the activity this year,” said Scott Friedlein of the Champaign Police Department. “There’s been activity on his part to say, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore.'”

The commission also said they will place more emphasis on monitoring private parties. While a group of 18 Illinois Liquor Control Commission members inspect licensed liquor establishments throughout the day, Friedlein said he will be heading a task force focused on private party enforcement.

There will also be numerous two-officer teams on campus conducting street sweeps in order to curb alcohol-related crimes such as disorderly conduct and battery.

One of the commission’s major concerns for Unofficial is the predicted large influx of students from outside schools. Last year, only 60 of the 199 people arrested on Unofficial were identified as Illinois students said Rene Dunn, assistant to the chief of police for community relations.

“The big problem is that when they originally started this, they advertised it as a drunkfest inviting all the out-of-towners.but there’s no organized effort by our bars this year,” Schweighart said.

But for Schweighart, Unofficial is becoming a progressively less important issue.

“I don’t think this is going to be a major year this year,” Schweighart said. “Last year was relatively calm…hopefully we can get through this year and next year if any media asks me, ‘What are we going to do about Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day?’ I can say, ‘We’re not even planning for it.’ Hopefully we can get back to normal.”