Wichita City Council members respond to problems in Old Town
The Wichita City Council voted to approve ordinance changes for the Old Town entertainment district as a response to recent incidents of violence in the area.
Wichita Police Deputy Chief Tom Stolz presented four strategies for the Old Town district.
The first deals with law enforcement strategies, which the department has already undertaken with new patrol operations in the area. The second strategy deals with the environment, including additional lighting and changes in traffic in Old Town.
The third strategy involves the use of technology. Stolz said businesses are looking at a surveillance camera system with a central monitoring point. There have also been discussions on security posts where patrons could call for help by pressing a button that would activate a light and sound an alarm.
The fourth strategy includes ordinance changes to restrict loitering between midnight and 6 a.m. It also has changes to the classification of drinking establishments on food sales, in an effort to keep 18-to-20-year-old patrons out of establishments that mostly serve alcohol.
Council members heard support for the ordinances from the owners of several Old Town businesses. Sheila Cole, general manager of the Hotel at Old Town, and Andrew Bryant, manager of the Courtyard by Marriott, said they have heard concerns about the safety of Old Town from groups and individuals looking for hotel rooms.
Morrie Sheets, owner of Mort's Cigar Bar, said it's time for the council to make a decision, and police, employers, and patrons should not be at risk. Brian Shapiro, the owner of the club Doc Howard's, said the problem is with incidents happening in parking lots. He urged the council not to rush a decision.
Members of the group Occupy Wichita spoke against the regulations. The group's lead spokesman, Mike Shatz, said the ordinances will put a strain on clubs in Old Town. He said the ordinances amount to a curfew that is an attack on freedom.
Another Occupy member, Janice Bradley, asked where 18-to-20-year-old people will go if they can't go to Old Town, and she questioned who is being targeted by the ordinances.
Council member Lavonta Williams wanted to give more time to street vendors. Council member Pete Meitzner proposed extending the closing time for the sidewalk vendors from midnight to 1 a.m. Council members agreed to that as part of the motion for approval.
The council voted 6-0 to give the ordinance changes first round approval, with Mayor Carl Brewer having to leave early for a prior appointment. The ordinances will come back to the council next week for any changes and a vote on final approval.