Here’s how college entertainment districts in the region manage culture, safety | News

 

The debate over whether to allow a special use permit for a Campus Corner bar and restaurant is over, but the question remains whether the area will follow in step with other entertainment districts in college towns.

Established in 1917, Norman’s Campus Corner has a longstanding history as a vibrant gathering place for University of Oklahoma students and college football fans, with four blocks of options for retail, food and drink.

Joe Bendetti, owner of Logie’s On the Corner, went before City Council in April to ask for special use: Bar and tavern zoning to ensure compliance with the state’s liquor laws. State bar and liquor laws changed in 2018. Prior to the change, 3.2% beer counted as food sales. A business must show 35% or more of monthly gross business sales attributed to food to be considered a restaurant.

Bendetti agreed to stipulations, including ’21 to enter’ signs, maintaining a full kitchen, ensuring speakers are inward facing to limit noise and opening by 4 pm and closing by 2 am

Council approved the special use under those conditions, with Mayor Breea Clark as the lone “no” vote. At the meeting, Clark said she didn’t want to be one of the votes that would change the culture of the area.

“My fear is that yes, we will get other bars down there, and soon we might have a bar district,” O’Connell’s owner Jeff Stewart said. “Then the character of campus corner [would] change from family friendly to late night partying.”

Ward 4 City Councilor Lee Hall, whose ward holds Campus Corner, said this zoning case was “particularly interesting” due to the amount of views represented. She said the ability to apply special conditions was a determining factor in her willingness to vote for the allowance of Logie’s special use.

Multiple business owners and Rainey Powell, a majority owner of property in the district, claimed the zoning request would turn Campus Corner into a bar district similar to Sixth Street in Austin, Texas and generally change the culture, appeal and safety of the corridor. Powell did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the future of Campus Corner.

Jerry Rusthoven, chief zoning officer for the City of Austin, said a developer recently came in and purchased a significant amount of property on Sixth Street. The owner is in talks with the city to figure out how to encourage more daytime use in an area with many bars.

These discussions follow an uptick in crime in the district, Rusthoven said. He said the style of entertainment on Sixth Street has changed over the years, and safety concerns have increased.

“I would say we’ve had a few shootings down there during South by Southwest and just in general,” he said. “People are more concerned about that kind of thing.”

On the evening of Aug. 6, 2020, Charles Cotton, 20, allegedly shot a man multiple times on Campus Corner. Prosecutors charged Cotton with assault and battery with a deadly weapon.

In 2021, Austin City Council passed the Safer 6th Street Initiative, a series of actions intended to spur safer conditions in the entertainment district. The initiative asks for a lighting study and an annual entertainment permit for places of assembly that operate after midnight.

The city manager is tasked with regular updates to create an EMS presence.

But perhaps a closer comparison to Campus Corner is Dickson Street, an entertainment district in downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas. Like Campus Corner, Dickson Street leads right up to the University of Arkansas campus and is in a mid-sized city situated around the college.

The area is home to restaurants, retail and a variety of bars and night destinations.

City of Fayetteville director of economic vitality Devin Howland said he is “unaware of any discussions or efforts from the City or other business owners to limit the amount of bars on Dickson Street” despite a high number of bars in the area.

To increase economic activity in the area during COVID-19, Fayetteville passed an Outdoor Refreshment Area ordinance. The ordinance allows guests 21 and older to walk around much of the district with alcoholic beverages if they have designated cups and wrist bands. It’s in accordance with Arkansas’ entertainment district law passed in 2019.

Howland said private clubs go before City Council for review and consideration on a case-by-case basis once an application is given to the city.

Based on parking utilization, Dickson Street is busiest Thursday through Saturday evenings, said Fayetteville parking manager Justin Clay.

“There is also quite a bit of activity [Monday through Friday] during the day when the University of Arkansas is in session as students are going to and from campus,” Clay said. “These demands fluctuate based on events that frequently take place at various performing arts and musical venues.”

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