City officials have hit the right balance in dealing with the trouble in Old Town – acting swiftly, collaboratively and decisively while stressing that the recent gunfire has been isolated and the entertainment district remains safe.
Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz is due particular praise for working with club owners, the Old Town Association and other businesses in the area in advance of Tuesday’s Wichita City Council approval of amended ordinances governing nightclubs and sidewalk vending.
As Stolz told the council again Tuesday, the problem has centered on the period from 12:30 to 2:30 a.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in a specific geographic area. The ordinance changes, along with law enforcement efforts already under way, promise to make the area less hospitable to troublemakers while giving officers more tools to deal with the potential for trouble.
Under the changes, police will have the authority to disperse patrons from adjacent property when the clubs close, and cover charges will no longer count toward the 30 percent food-sales threshold that allows clubs to serve 18- to 20-year-olds. Along with better lighting, more cameras are coming – a concern regarding civil liberties, but also a fact of 21st-century life. Businesses reportedly are poised to pay for more cameras, on top of the security measures they’ve already taken.
Such important steps should rebuild the sense of security among Old Town visitors and residents, and help ensure that the recent incidents don’t jeopardize the success of an entertainment district key to downtown revitalization. When hotel guests in the area are referring to “gunshots in Old Town” on their comment cards, the city’s convention and tourism fortunes are at risk. So is the more than $30 million the city has spent on Old Town projects over the past two decades.
That said, speakers at Tuesday’s meeting raised some issues worth watching, including whether the ordinance changes in Old Town will invite racial profiling and leave 18- to 20-year-olds with no places to go, and whether police are doing enough to patrol the city-owned parking lots along with the streets.
The city also should be sensitive to whether it’s unfairly applying rules needed in Old Town to nightclubs citywide, and legally designate Old Town an entertainment district if the need arises there for even tougher measures.
But as Sheila Cole, general manager of the Hotel at Old Town, told the council, “addressing where the problem really stems from and acting on it should send a clear message that Old Town is a wonderful treasure to Wichita that we are going to protect and preserve.”
In the wake of four straight weekends in which gunshots were heard in Old Town, the city took action, not cover. Good work.