Bar and restaurant owners in Saratoga Springs said Tuesday they want to try other methods of reducing late night and early morning crowd problems rather than having an earlier last call.
City Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen held a well-attended public forum in City Hall to discuss, among other things, his proposal to have a 3 a.m. last call for alcohol rather than the current 4 a.m. closing time.
“A poll of several downtown businesses shows that an earlier closing time will result in a 15 percent to 20 percent reduction in workforce. Hundreds of jobs will be lost,” said John Baker, owner of Gaffney’s restaurant at 16 Caroline St.
Baker, speaking for the city’s bar and restaurant community, said a 20 percent drop in business revenue from the earlier closing time would translate into a 20 percent drop in sales tax revenue.
Many bar and restaurant owners attended Tuesday’s forum in City Hall’s third-floor Music Hall. The session was attended by more than 180 people.
Mathiesen said the combination of new measures being advocated by the Public Safety Department, including having bouncers certified and bartenders and other employees trained in not over-serving patrons, along with the 3 a.m. closing time, would address problems of violence and crowd control in the downtown in the early morning hours on weekends.
“This is a problem that has been ignored for way too long,” he said.
Several city residents also complained about the increase in noise from loud bands playing downtown late at night. People living several blocks from the downtown said they can’t keep their windows open during the summer when the bands start playing on many nights.
Kevin Veitch, a city code enforcement officer, said his office receives noise complaints Monday mornings about loud outdoor entertainment on weekends from residents living on East Avenue, Lake Avenue and Circular Street. He said repeated offenders of the city’s noise ordinance will be prosecuted unless they police themselves.
Offenders could end up losing their city cabaret license, he said.
Baker and other bar and restaurant owners said the downtown establishments are addressing concerns raised by the Public Safety Department during a recent meeting among bar owners, city police and representatives of the state Liquor Authority.
“The majority of establishments in the Caroline Street area are looking at a text-sharing system to communicate with one another should a patron be removed from one bar,” Baker said.
This system will allow the participating bars to alert the other businesses with a physical description or photo and what the person was doing “in hope that other bars will not allow the offending party in,” he said.
Mathiesen said the proposed 3 a.m. closing time, which he plans to bring to the City Council’s April meeting, is a “reasonable compromise.”
“It doesn’t diminish nightlife,” he said.
Mathiesen said some studies indicate that violence and other problems “become incrementally worse as the night proceeds.” He maintains that the earlier closing time would diminish these problems and improve safety on Caroline Street.
Several residents not associated with bars and restaurant said they supported Mathiesen’s earlier closing time. They mentioned incidents of violence, muggings and even death that have happened downtown in the early morning hours after the bars close.
William Pouch, owner of Esperanto at 4 Caroline St., said his eatery does not serve alcohol but stays open until 4 a.m. for business reasons.
“Close early and you are upsetting a delicate balance. I don’t agree with closing early,” he said.
“Think outside the box. What’s going to make sense, what’s going to work?” Pouch said.