Entertainment districts in cities across Alabama allow patrons to roam the streets freely, mug of alcohol in hand.
But at least one business owner is wondering if Mobile should rein in its downtown district after a chaotic New Year’s Eve shooting in downtown Mobile that killed one person and injured seven others.
Greg Loughlin, owner of the Saddle Up Saloon, said he will ask City Council to consider reducing the hours of the city’s entertainment district and closing the open liquor opening until 9pm. Plastic cups outdoors and until midnight.
“It was designed for people in the entertainment district to get a drink and go from one place to the next, but that doesn’t happen,” said Loughlin, whose facility is a short walking distance from the 200 Dauphin Street site where the shooting happened has taken place.
He said the district draws rowdy crowds late into the night.
“I’m not saying everyone is in a street gang, but there are[people walking around downtown]in uniform and it’s just not inviting,” he said. “It’s intimidating.”
Change opening hours
Loughlin is scheduled to address Mobile City Council during this morning’s session to discuss his concerns in the wake of the shooting. His comments could spark a discussion that hasn’t happened since the shooting. The council released a statement about the shooting after a closed meeting with Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration during last week’s meeting, but council members made no public comments during the meeting.
“Nobody wants to say anything,” Loughlin said. “I’ve tried talking to them on the side, but I can’t see anyone. So I put myself on the list to speak publicly.”
Carol Hunter, spokeswoman for the Downtown Mobile Alliance, said Loughlin is the only downtown business owner who has expressed an interest in rolling back the entertainment district’s hours of operation.
But she said the issue had “surfaced” and there could be more support from other downtown business owners, even if others frowned.
“I expect some of the other venues that are hoping to allow their customers to go out with a drink between 9pm (and midnight) will push back a bit,” Hunter said. “They would cut it off three hours earlier.”
Jason Johnson, a spokesman for Stimpson, said changing the entertainment district’s hours of operation “isn’t something we’re trying to do right now.”
The hours were previously reset over public safety concerns. In 2016, amid a spate of outdoor block parties and violent encounters, the council extended the borough’s closing time from 2 a.m. to midnight.
The Entertainment District’s original hours of operation were established when the districts were established in 2013.
Hunter said she thinks it would be helpful for the Mobile Police Department to analyze public safety actions before the council takes action on the Entertainment District or anything else related to downtown safety to see if it’s having an impact.
Police Chief Paul Prine has announced in recent weeks that his agency will release statistics showing crime-fighting efforts are working despite a spike in homicides since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Loughlin said he also plans to ask if the Mobile Police Department has enough officers working in downtown Mobile. He said his concerns were more administrative in nature and not directed at law enforcement.
“This is a council issue and there needs to be a discussion about budgeting,” Loughlin said.
Prine and others have said that there was a heavy police presence on New Year’s Eve. Longtime owner of Pat’s Downtown, Mike Piercy, who was standing on the sidewalk outside his shop when the shooting occurred, said there were many police officers who rushed to respond to a shooting that killed one man and injured seven people.
Prine said his agency will be “in full force” during Mardi Gras season, which begins Feb. 3 with the Conde Cavaliers parade followed by a concert by Nelly at Mardi Gras Park.
“We expect to be in full force this year,” said Prine, who described the New Year’s Eve shooting as “an isolated incident.” He also said last year’s Mardi Gras was a “success” and that his agency will employ similar strategies to make the event safe.
The free Nelly concert, hosted by Reese’s Senior Bowl, was originally scheduled to take place in Cathedral Square, which is a few hundred yards from the Dauphin Street shooting.
But Prine and others said the shooting had nothing to do with the decision to move the concert. He said Mardi Gras Park is much larger and more spacious for people to gather to see a concert.
“To my knowledge, it’s been postponed because (Mardi Gras Park) is a larger venue,” Prine said. “It was probably a wise decision.”
Molly Middleton, a Senior Bowl spokeswoman, said discussions about moving to Mardi Gras Park were ongoing in early December or weeks before filming on New Year’s Eve.
She said the Senior Bowl is committed to having a “fun, safe and exciting night” ahead of the annual College Football All-Star Game taking place Feb. 4 at the University of South Alabama’s Hancock-Whitney Stadium guarantee.
Prine said there will be a large police contingent at Mardi Gras Park. The park itself will not have metal detectors, he said.
“It’s quite difficult to provide secured entry and exit to Mardi Gras Park,” Prine said. “We’re going to have a large contingent of officers down there and suffice it to say people will feel safe knowing they can get down there. We don’t want bad guys with nefarious intentions causing trouble.”
Prine encourages people who notice anything unusual to contact a local official.
“The community is our ears and eyes when they’re in these places,” Prine said. “Sometimes the bad guys like to distance themselves from the presence of law enforcement.”