Entertainment districts in cities throughout Alabama allow patrons to walk around freely through the streets with a cup of alcohol in their hands.
But at least one business owner is wondering if Mobile should curtail its downtown district in the aftermath of a chaotic New Year’s Eve shooting that left one person dead and seven others injured in downtown Mobile.
Greg Loughlin, owner of Saddle Up Saloon, said he will ask the council to consider shortening the city’s entertainment district hours and having the open alcohol closed off by 9 p.m. The entertainment district currently allows downtown Mobile visitors to drink alcoholic beverages out of a 16-ounce plastic cup outdoors and until midnight.
“It was designed for people in the entertainment district to grab a drink and walk from one location to the next one, but that is not what is happening,” said Loughlin, whose establishment is within a short walking distance from the 200 Dauphin Street location where the shooting occurred.
He said the district is drawing rowdy crowds late into the night.
“I’m not saying everyone there is in a street gang, but there are (people walking around downtown) wearing uniforms and it’s just not inviting,” he said. “It’s intimidating.”
Loughlin is scheduled to speak before the Mobile City Council during this morning’s meeting to discuss his concerns in the shooting’s aftermath. His comments could spark some discussion which has not happened since the shooting. The council, following a closed-door executive session with Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration during last week’s meeting, released a statement about the shooting but council members did not make any public remarks during the meeting.
“No one wants to say anything,” said Loughlin. “I’ve tried to talk to them on the side and cannot get a meeting with anyone. So, I put myself on the list to speak publicly.”
Carol Hunter, spokesperson with the Downtown Mobile Alliance, said that Loughlin is the only downtown business owner to express interest in rolling back the entertainment district hours.
But she said the issue has “come up” and that there may be more support from other business owners downtown even if others will disapprove.
“I anticipate there might be some push back from some of the other venues that are hoping to be able to allow their customers to leave with a beverage between 9 p.m. (and midnight),” said Hunter. “They would be cutting it off three hours early.”
Jason Johnson, a spokesman for Stimpson, said that altering the entertainment district’s hours is “not something we are attempting to do at the moment.”
The hours have been rolled back before over public safety concerns. In 2016, amid a rash of outdoor block parties and violent encounters, the council rolled back the district’s closing time from 2 a.m. to midnight.
The original entertainment district hours were set when the districts were created in 2013.
Hunter said she thinks it would be helpful that before the council takes any action on the entertainment district, or with anything else related to downtown safety, to analyze public safety measures the Mobile Police Department is taking to see if they are having an impact.
Police Chief Paul Prine, in recent weeks, has said his agency will release statistics illustrating crime-fighting efforts are working despite a rise in homicides since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Loughlin said he also plans to ask whether Mobile police have had enough officers working in downtown Mobile. He said his concerns are more administrative and are not directed at law enforcement.
“That’s a council problem and there needs to be a talk about budgeting,” said Loughlin.
Prine and others have said there were plenty of police presence on New Year’s Eve. The longtime owner of Pat’s Downtown, Mike Piercy, who was standing outside his business on the sidewalk when the shooting occurred, said there was plenty of police who hurriedly responded to a shooting that left one man dead and seven people injured.
Prine said his agency will be in “full force” during Mardi Gras season, which kicks off on February 3 with the Conde Cavaliers parade followed by a concert by Nelly at Mardi Gras Park.
“We’re expecting this year that we’ll be in full force,” said Prine, who has called the New Year’s Eve shooting an “isolated incident.” He also said that last year’s Mardi Gras was a “success” and that his agency will employ similar strategies taken that will make the event safe.
The free Nelly concert, hosted by the Reese’s Senior Bowl, was originally scheduled to be held at Cathedral Square located a few hundred feet from the Dauphin Street shooting.
But Prine and others have said the shooting had nothing to do with a decision to relocate the concert. He said that Mardi Gras Park is much larger and roomier for people to gather to watch a concert.
“My understanding is it was moved due to (Mardi Gras Park) being a larger venue,” said Prine. “It was probably a wise decision.”
Molly Middleton, a spokesperson for the Senior Bowl, said discussions about relocating to Mardi Gras Park were underway in early December or weeks before the shooting happened on New Year’s Eve.
She said the Senior Bowl is committed to ensuring a “fun and safe and exciting night” ahead of the annual college football all-star game taking place on February 4, at Hancock-Whitney Stadium at the University of South Alabama.
Prine said there will be a large contingency of police at Mardi Gras Park. The park, itself, will not have metal detectors, he said.
“It’s kind of hard to do a secured entry at Mardi Gras Park with ingresses and egresses,” Prine said. “We will have a large contingency of officers down there and it’s sufficient to say, people will feel safe knowing they can come down there. We don’t want bad guys with nefarious intent to cause problems.”
Prine is encouraging people who notice something amiss, to reach out to an officer on the scene.
“The community is our ears and eyes when they at these venues,” said Prine. “Sometimes, the bad guys like to move away from law enforcement presence.”