Officials plan to focus on monitoring private parties

While campus bars in Champaign will be upping their entrance age to 21 for Unofficial, the regular rule of 19-and-up shows no sign of being changed permanently.

Champaign law normally allows 19- and 20-year-olds into bars, despite the fact that they are not allowed to consume alcohol. Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day, however, will precipitate a change in that law.

While Champaign Mayor and Liquor Commissioner Gerald Schweighart can change the age temporarily under emergency orders, it would be up to the council to do that permanently, and most members appear unconcerned, Schweighart said.

Some council members and city officials have justified the law in the past by saying bars are safer drinking atmospheres than apartments or houses to which students would otherwise gravitate.

“(Bars are) considered heavily controlled, licensed environments with a system of sanctions that causes them to be responsible for what happens inside of them,” said Dist. 2 Council member Michael La Due.

Events that draw large numbers of visitors from outside campus, however, call for stricter measures, Schweighart said.

“We can deal with our students,” he said. “It’s the infusion of people that have no ties or no commitment to this community or this campus, that are here for the sole purpose of getting drunk, and then that causes the fights and the vandalism.”

Last year, many bars changed the age to 21 on their own on Unofficial, La Due said, adding that this does mean many students take festivities elsewhere.

“It will, of course, create more pressure on the monitoring of the private parties,” he said.

Schweighart said police will be focusing on those parties.

“This year, we got 18 people coming in from the Illinois State Liquor Control Commission that are going to be predominantly enforcing the bar aspect of it and checking them,” he said. “That will free up my officers’ time in patrolling the apartment parties.”

The practice of charging entrants to get in to all-you-can-drink parties, or charging for cups is of particular concern, Schweighart said, and could cost their hosts considerably.

“There’s no control on age or amount of drink – it’s just a binge drinking fest,” Schweighart said, adding that fines could run into the thousands.

La Due said that while he supports the raised entry age for Unofficial because of the influx of people from out of town, in general, bars are more easily monitored.

At-Large Council member Deborah Frank Feinen said that while April’s election will bring at least three new council members who may view the issue differently, she does not think the council views it as a pressing concern.

“I think it’s fine how it is,” said Dist. 5 Council member Ken Pirok.

“It’s difficult for me to see how a legal adult shouldn’t be able to walk into a bar.”

The Champaign City Council would have to vote to change the age with at least five in favor, said Schweighart.

The council has not recently discussed bar ages specifically, Pirok said, adding that it had not come up officially in the eight years he has been on the council.

“It will often get brought up in the context of different discussions about liquor enforcement. So if we’re discussing happy hour laws, or alcohol enforcement or Unofficial, it will be mentioned in the context of those discussions,” Pirok said.