City, students and University prepare for Unofficial

By John McDermott

Despite attempts by the University and the city of Champaign to suppress Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day and the excessive drinking the holiday promotes, some students remain undeterred.

“(I plan on) drinking as soon as I get up in the morning, like always,” said Shawn Vollmar, senior in Business, about his Unofficial plans.

Vollmar’s comments came after the Liquor Advisory Commission’s Thursday morning meeting in which they discussed various regulations and police tactics for Unofficial. With the infamous “holiday” two weeks away, students, city members and the University are all preparing for Illinois’ day-long drinking event.

For Vollmar, Unofficial has undergone a change during the past several years.

“It hasn’t been as much of a party as it was,” Vollmar said. “Unofficial is U of I’s thing. Now the school is trying to take it away, and it was one of the things that used to be really nice about this campus and fun; one day to look forward to take a break.”

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As expected, Liquor Commissioner and Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart announced he will exercise his emergency order powers for March 6, 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 Avenue to Florida Avenue and from First Street to Wright Street, as bars located in downtown Champaign have historically remained uninvolved in Unofficial festivities, Schweighart said.

The Liquor Advisory Commission plans to notify bar owners of the emergency order on Friday, said Teri Legner, deputy liquor commissioner.

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 because of the heightened police presence and establishments reducing their Unofficial-related advertising. He applauded bar owner and Unofficial creator 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 Champaign Police Sgt. Scott Friedlein. “There’s been activity on his part to say, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore.'”

At time of press, Cochrane had not returned a message left for him.

With bars no longer a major concern, the commission has placed more emphasis on monitoring private parties. While a group of 18 Illinois Liquor Control Commission members inspect licensed liquor establishments throughout the day, Friedlein, consultant to the commission, will be heading a task force focused on private-party enforcement.

Numerous two-officer teams will also be 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, Schweighart said. Last year, only 60 of the 199 people issued notices to appear in court on Unofficial were identified as University students, said Rene Dunn, spokeswoman for the Champaign Police Department.

“The big problem is that when they originally started this, they advertised it as a drunkfest inviting all the out-of-towners,” Schweighart said.

Aleksia Culafic, freshman in LAS, plans on having at least six friends sleeping in her dorm room during Unofficial, as she will be hosting friends that attend Stanford University, University of Richmond, University of Wisconsin-Madison, St. Louis University and University of Miami.

With outside students receiving a disproportionate number of drinking citations, Culafic believes that students from other schools actually acknowledge the risks that come with celebrating Unofficial.

“In recent years the amount of enforcement has gone up regarding drinking,” Culafic said. “I think that people coming to U of I know that it is definitely a possibility to be subject to discipline.”

This year, the sales department for The Daily Vidette, Illinois State University’s student newspaper, sent letters to several Champaign bars detailing their advertising rates in case they wanted to advertise their Unofficial promotions to students in nearby Bloomington-Normal, said Michelle Flanigan, The Daily Vidette’s advertising sales manager.

Soon thereafter, the sales department was contacted by Steve Adams, ISU’s vice president of student affairs, who asked the newspaper not to advertise Unofficial at the request of the University of Illinois administration. The Daily Vidette also received a letter from a Cochrane legal representative stating that Unofficial is Cochrane copyright property.

The extensive amount of time and manpower the city and University have devoted to suppressing Unofficial indicates that it is a pressing problem, 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.”