state patty’s day

Our View | Maligned payouts do help control State Patty’s impact

March 4, 2014 

State College can exhale now.

Another State Patty’s Day, the boozy “holiday” and source of much consternation, has passed. Penn State students created it in 2007 to offset St. Patrick’s Day falling on spring break that year, and it quickly became the bane of the community.

Some of you, though, are doing more than breathing a sigh of relief.

There’s some huffing and puffing about the $211,250 the university forked out to local taverns, restaurants, bottle shops and beer distributors to not sell alcohol Saturday.

We understand the griping.

It doesn’t sit well — especially with tuition hikes increasing the costs of an already expensive public education — that Penn State dipped into a fund meant for scholarships and student-related initiatives such as HUB LateNight programs to buy the cooperation of businesses.

The university has said the fund, which includes revenue from student parking violations, has grown in years, and that the payout wouldn’t mean a reduction in current spending for scholarships and programs.

That may be true, but what more could have been done with the State Patty’s Day subsidies?

Then again, Penn State found itself in a bind — damned either way.

Few of the paid businesses were volunteering to go dry. If Penn State had spent nothing to tamp down the day, as some wish, and hordes of green-clad drunks stumbled out of bars to clog downtown sidewalks and the police blotter, critics would be howling just the same.

Perhaps the money could have gone to better uses, but it appears the payments bought results.

According to State College police, total crime was down 47 percent and arrests dropped 61 percent from last year. Police compared it to a typical football weekend.

“We didn’t have a whole lot of destructive behavior,” Lt. Bradley Smail said.

Lest we forget, we’ve seen a lot worse.

In 2011, a peak year and low point simultaneously, State College police responded to 480 calls over the State Patty’s Day weekend and made 234 arrests. Centre LifeLink EMS answered 83 calls, many for alcohol overdoses and drinking-related injuries.

All the numbers were up from 2010, continuing the annual trend from the day’s inception. That year, intoxicated throngs packed downtown, arrests doubled from 2009, and ambulance calls shot up.

Among the lowlights:

•  A man, who had been throwing snowballs at cars, including an unmarked police car, punched an officer after a foot pursuit.

•  Another man fought with bar staff at the Phyrst after urinating on the bar’s front door along Beaver Avenue.

•  A man needed 15 stitches after a beer bottle was broken above his eye.

•  Then there was this charming incident in broad daylight:

“... (Y)esterday (there) was a drunk young man pooping in the front yard of our neighbors across the street,” one Highlands neighborhood resident posted online.

But since 2011, crime and emergency statistics have been declining. Last year, when Penn State paid a flat $5,000 to businesses to curb alcohol sales, the day turned out the tamest to date — until Saturday.

Maybe payments are the price of peace, a necessary evil.

If so, do we want to see Penn State adopt a penny-wise approach, hang on to its money and possibly spark a return to the bad old days?

Of course, the arrangement isn’t perfect.

Penn State deviated from the tiered payment system adopted at the advice of the State College Tavern Association. The university offered between $2,500 and $7,500 per business to reflect more accurate compensations for lost revenue, but ended up negotiating separate deals with some establishments that balked and demanded more.

As a result, nobody looked good. Penn State appeared weak, held over a barrel. Businesses that held out looked greedy and opportunistic.

Business owners shouldn’t be expected to punt a day’s worth of revenue through no fault of their own. That wouldn’t be fair. But for the sake of the community, they could make a little sacrifice.

For that matter, so could Penn State students — though some tried to do their part.

Fraternities and sororities agreed to refrain from weekend parties. Before State Patty’s Day, some volunteers did community service work to counter the day’s negative image.

But many students still insisted on their right to wear ugly shirts and silly hats, drink cheap beer and stagger around — as if they don’t get to do that already on the real St. Patrick’s Day. Only now, it’s even more selfish, amounting to stealing from their classmates.

If more students don’t take responsibility for ending the day themselves, or at least behaving better while drinking, it’ll be hard to eradicate the dubious tradition completely.

That said, can Penn State afford to suppress alcohol sales every year? Is there a better way to tackle this thorny issue?

Penn State and borough leaders think their solution is working, that the price paid is money well spent.

How would you improve upon their plan?

Send ideas for handling State Patty’s Day, in 250 words or less, to cdtletters@centredaily.com. We’ll publish your thoughts on a future Opinions page.

Perhaps in doing so, we can help local leaders deal with this complex situation in the years ahead.

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