State College area establishments weigh State Patty’s closures

Downtown State College taverns have expressed interest in remaining open on State Patty’s Day on March 1, but they are willing to limit their services to help mitigate the negative effects of the student-created holiday.

Borough Manager Tom Fountaine hopes to have a meeting with Mike Desmond of Hotel State College & Co., and Pat Daugherty, owner of The Tavern, to see how they can work together on the initiative.

Desmond and Daugherty, along with Duke Gastiger, owner of The Rathskeller, and Jennifer Zangrilli president of the State College Tavern Owners Association and director of operations for Dante’s Restaurants & Nightlife, all expressed that they would like to stay open for the event, said Bill Zimmerman, a spokesman with Penn State and member of a task force aimed at curbing the appeal of the event.

“I think there is some willingness to adopt restrictions,” Zimmerman added.

Those restriction might include higher cover charges, a possible ban on drink specials and barring any drinks from being served to those wearing State Patty’s Day green and white attire, Zimmerman said.

State Patty’s Day is a student-created holiday that acts as an alternative drinking day to St. Patrick’s Day, which sometimes falls during spring break.

On Thursday, the State College Tavern Owners Association and the task force met to discuss ideas at separate meetings.

Zangrilli could not be reached for comment.

Zimmerman said the task force is spearheaded by Fountaine and Damon Sims, Penn State’s vice president for student affairs, and involves State College Police Chief Tom King, campus police, community members and students.

“The task force is hoping to repeat its alcohol-free initiative from last year,” Zimmerman said.

Last year, as part of an effort to reduce drinking and keep locals and property safe, downtown State College taverns agreed to not serve alcohol in exchange for $5,000 each from a partnership with university and local officials called Campus and Community United Against Dangerous Drinking.

The money was meant to offset lost revenue that restaurants normally would have received by serving alcohol. Last year, money came from parking revenues, Zimmerman said.

In 2013, 34 local establishments participated. The state Liquor Control Board additionally agreed to close liquor stores in the area.

Sims said he met Thursday with Fountaine, King and Steve Shelow, assistant vice president for police and public safety at Penn State, to discuss a more specific response.

“We certainly would like to see the alcohol-free zone downtown again this year, but we don’t yet know which taverns, restaurants and bottle shops are willing to participate. Regardless, the university stands ready to make payments to these establishments in lieu of having them sell or serve alcohol on that day,” Sims said in an email Thursday.

Zimmerman said a monetary collective agreement has not been made, but the task force is willing to explore subsidies for establishments that do close. No monetary figures have been explored yet, he said.

Zimmerman added that the task force additionally intends to reach out to the PLCB.

On Thursday morning, the State College Coalition of Neighborhood Associations issued a statement, asking taverns to do the same this year.

“As residents who frequent your establishments, we understand the sacrifice and inconvenience of not serving alcohol on State Patty’s Day,” the statement said. “However, we urge you refrain from serving alcohol that day, to continue the trend begun with last year’s improvements. Working together we can bring an end to State Patty’s Day.”

More than a dozen downtown restaurants were also contacted, none of which could comment.

The Coalition of Neighborhood Associations said when compared to the 2012 State Patty’s Day, the 2013 event saw a 40 percent reduction in event-related emergency room cases, and a reduction in crime of 35 to 40 percent.

Zimmerman added that last year emergency room visits were down by 31 percent for alcohol related treatment.

The ultimate goal is to close State Patty’s Day altogether but will take it one step at a time, Zimmerman said.

“Last year we were encouraged by the gains we saw,” Zimmerman said. “We’re going to continue to help limit ER visits, arrests and citations.”

As of Thursday night, 2,197 people have clicked “join” on the State Patty’s Day Facebook event page to confirm their attendance March 1.

The university reinstated its yearly policy of allowing only one visitor in rooms in the residence halls for State Patty’s Day. It has also sent letters to owners of large apartment complexes asking them to shut down parties.

According to Dan Combs, Penn State Interfraternity Council president, “Fraternities will be closing their doors for all social functions,” for Friday and Saturday that weekend. “This means that there will not be drinking of any kind in the fraternities throughout the weekend. The goal of this is to make the town unattractive to out-of-town guests.”

“The students have a big role in this,” Zimmerman said. “Students are vocal at these meetings.”

Zimmerman added that some students are also currently working on a student safety initiative. Last year, a video was produced that encouraged people to stay home on State Patty’s Day.

The next task force meeting will be held 8 a.m. Wednesday at the Nittany Lion Inn. The meetings are closed to the public, Zimmerman said.