Put delay on liquor permits

In light of Warren’s inability to control violence erupting at Sunset Lounge, Olympic Inn and other liquor-selling establishments, and its lackadaisical approach to shutting down the businesses, it would be prudent to use caution with the 15 additional liquor licenses recently approved for an entertainment district that includes downtown.

The Ohio legislature passed the bill that creates opportunities for the D-5i liquor permits to be approved for restaurants in downtown. State Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said the legislation ”is a critical component” to continue to grow small businesses in the city.

State Rep. Tom Letson, D-Warren, pushed the entertainment district in the House for the same reason.

They’re right. The law making liquor permits available to the owners or operators of retail eating establishments where food accounts for at least 75 percent of the business’ gross annual receipts could help foster a classy, thriving nightlife for the downtown. The rules mean no bars; just restaurants and banquet facilities.

Other requirements are having inside seating for at least 140 people and at least 4,000 square feet of floor space. Ohio law also says this type of permit shall not be transferred to another location.

It applies to new and existing locations.

This would be ideal for responsible restaurateurs. Offering adult beverages with meals helps business, and city leaders should be doing all they can to help downtown businesses.

But the city has yet to demonstrate enough tenacity in dealing with existing liquor establishments that appear irresponsible. Despite many complaints, police calls and violent episodes, it took homicides to close the former Benji Brown’s bar on North Park Avenue and Sunset Lounge on East Market Street.

Even in these cases, the end result was unfavorable. A nuisance abatement against Benji Brown’s was quickly overturned on a technicality and the bar reopened. Instead of a nuisance abatement against Sunset, the city settled for an agreement that allows the owner to reopen.

Last week, Mayor Doug Franklin and Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa announced that they are forming a task force to investigate complaints filed against bars and other establishments in the city.

”The task force will look at establishments in which our police department has to respond to multiple calls, or we have multiple calls from residents or their clients,” Franklin said.

”We are concerned about the safety of our residents,” Cantalamessa said. ”If we have an establishment in which we are receiving numerous calls about fighting, drug dealing, thefts and shootings, we will look at them. It is not for complaints about a bar being too loud.”

Until this task force produces results, it’s simply too easy for 15 more liquor licenses to end up in the hands of irresponsible bar owners. Meeting the square-footage and table-seating requirements would be easy for those owners hosting an undesirable clientele. Also, considering that the director of the city-supported Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp. declared Sunset Lounge as one of the businesses it helped, the city doesn’t appear willing or able to properly monitor records to make sure permit holders meet the 75 percent food rule.