Mayor issues emergency orders to ‘discourage out-of-towners’ from attending Unofficial

Champaign’s plans for Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day are notably different from last year’s, thanks to the man at the top: Mayor Don Gerard.

At this point last year, Jerry Schweighart was still mayor of Champaign. But Gerard, acting as mayor and liquor commissioner, issued emergency orders about this year’s festivities planned for March 2 in a press release on Friday.

While many of the orders, like a one-keg limit and the adult responsibility forms, have been made in years past, there are few differences that stand out in this year’s emergency orders. One is extending underage restrictions in Campustown bars by a day. Patron age for all campus bars will be 21 years or older on Friday, March 2, and Saturday, March 3. Last year, only Friday was affected by these restrictions.

By not allowing 19- and 20-year-olds into the bars on Saturday, Gerard said would-be visitors could reconsider traveling here. An extension of these restrictions is intended, Gerard said, to “discourage out-of-towners” from coming to an event not condoned by the city or the University.

“If you plan on visiting our town, don’t plan (on) going to the bars unless you’re of age,” Gerard said.

As liquor commissioner, Gerard has authority over liquor sales in licensed liquor establishments. Many of the liquor licensees had wanted to sit down and discuss plans with Gerard, said councilman Michael LaDue, District 2. He said last week they got their wish, as they listened to Gerard’s emergency plans.

“I think things are proceeding quite nicely,” LaDue said. “It is a good thing he is meeting with the licensees early and laying out his plans.”

Gerard said the bar owners he has talked to have been understanding of his intents for this year’s festivities.

“They are willing to work with me and I appreciate their support,” Gerard said.

Outside of Saturday restrictions at campus bars, the other change is allowing bars, restaurants and liquor stores to sell alcohol at 10 a.m., an hour earlier than last year. This move is intended to ease traffic at restaurants that also serve alcohol around lunchtime. He added that the police departments in the area expect more foot patrols and may suggest drivers to stay off Green Street for that weekend.

While LaDue said there aren’t many major differences between Gerard’s handling of Unofficial compared to previous mayors — other than those two regulations — he said Gerard has an added benefit of previously working with local bars. He said Gerard knows how these businesses deal with this event firsthand and knows safety remains a top priority.

“He suffers no illusions about what could happen that day,” LaDue said.

With these two new changes, he said he hopes that those who do not support Unofficial feel safer about what could happen that weekend.

“I hope that students and others will take responsibility and be respectful of the community,” Gerard said. “All we can do is try and keep people safe.”