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Wichita council approves new restrictions targeting Old Town patrons

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, at 1:04 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, at 7:45 a.m.


Do you think the new rules for Old Town will help reduce crime in the area?

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Recent gun incidents

Over the last three weekends, Wichita police have investigated three calls involving gunfire in Old Town. A summary of the cases:

• Saturday, Aug. 18, 1:50 a.m., 900 block of East First Street: Police respond to a call of someone firing a handgun toward a crowd. No one is hurt, and the suspect escapes.

• Sunday, Aug. 26, 2 a.m., Second and Wabash: Officers hear shots, and witnesses report seeing a man firing at a car carrying two men. A 28-year-old man, who has a handgun in his jacket pocket, is arrested for aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a felon. Police later determine that the shooting stemmed from a dispute over a woman.

• Saturday, Sept. 1, 2:20 a.m.,100 block of North Mosley: Officers hear shots and quickly stop a car carrying the man with a gun. The man, 29, is arrested for carrying a concealed firearm, possession of cocaine and discharging a firearm in city limits. The suspect tells officers he fired the shots in self-defense.

A new set of citywide restrictions targeting Old Town patrons is on the books after an 11th-hour attempt to delay them for a week.

The restrictions, designed to answer four gun violence incidents downtown in August and September, gained final approval from the Wichita City Council on Tuesday and will affect bars citywide immediately.

Council member Pete Meitzner — serving as interim mayor while Carl Brewer is in China on a business development trip — tried and failed to delay implementation for a week. He voiced concern that the regulations will cost entertainment clubs outside Old Town unnecessary money.

However, other council members were clear: Put the new regulations on the books, and find a legal method to confine those restrictions to Old Town later.

The city-wide restrictions include:

• When sidewalk vending may occur, requiring closing at 1 a.m., a change from midnight in the original proposal.

• Changing how food sales are determined at drinking establishments. Any admission or entry fee, such as a cover charge, doesn’t count toward the 30 percent food sales threshold that allows clubs to serve 18- to 20-year-old patrons.

• Giving police authority to disperse patrons from adjacent property when the clubs close.

• Improvements to lighting in Old Town, including permanent and temporary lighting to make patrons readily visible as they move between bars and clubs.

• Installation of video cameras in Old Town, with business owners poised to privately fund the video system.

• Design improvements to promote safety, including landscaping modifications to increase sight lines in Old Town.

Meitzner asked if city legal staff could determine how to confine the restrictions to just Old Town — through the establishment of a legal entertainment district downtown — with the week’s delay.

City Manager Robert Layton said such a study wouldn’t be done before early 2013.

“When we’ve had this discussion previously and at the staff level, our original thought was to meet the threshold necessary to make this an entertainment district, it could take several months gathering empirical data to make a rationale this district should be treated different than other districts,” Layton said.

Meitzner said club owners around the city are concerned about the costs of meeting the new requirements, including costs for supervising their parking lots and any adjacent ones.

“If we adopt this city-wide and we have an immediate impact that’s negative on other businesses, that’s why I’ve asked legal to give us a few answers,” he said.

Other council members were intent on proceeding immediately with the restrictions.

“I think we directed staff previously to figure out what it would take to designate an entertainment district to allow us to make specific policy changes in Old Town,” council member Jeff Longwell said. “As it sits, the policy has to go into effect city-wide. So either you don’t put the policy into effect city-wide until we get an entertainment district established. I think we need to be very proactive on the issues in Old Town, and I’d caution us against delaying until we establish an entertainment district.”

Council member Michael O’Donnell agreed.

“I’m just concerned about delaying this any further, because of the important pressing nature of these problems,” O’Donnell said. “We need to get this through and start enacting this ordinance. It’s too important to kick down the road.”

City attorney Gary Rebenstorf told the council that his office will work with Wichita police to guarantee flexibility with the clubs outside Old Town affected by the new regulations.

“I don’t think delaying it any further is going to keep people safe,” O’Donnell said.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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