Penn State, State College ramp up efforts to stamp out State Patty’s Day

Students walk by Penn State Auxiliary Police during State Patty’s Day. Police issued far fewer citations in 2013 than in previous years.
Students walk by Penn State Auxiliary Police during State Patty’s Day. Police issued far fewer citations in 2013 than in previous years. CDT photo

Penn State and State College officials made their pitch Tuesday to downtown tavern owners:

Close or stop serving alcohol on State Patty’s Day and you will be compensated.

But unlike last year, when owners were offered a flat $5,000 for cooperating on the student-created holiday, the compensation in 2014 could reflect how much money each business stands to lose.

Owners will receive anywhere from $2,500 to $7,500 based on how many customers their businesses can accommodate, according to a letter sent to the owners Tuesday by university and borough leaders.

The letter proposed a four-tier compensation system based on an establishment’s occupancy levels:

•  Businesses with occupancy of 350 or more: $7,500

•  Businesses with occupancy from 250-349: $6,000

•  Businesses with occupancy from 100-249: $5,000

•  Businesses with occupancy levels less than 100: $2,500

The change from a one-size-fits-all approach came based on the the advice of the State College Tavern Association, and “more accurately accounts for the meaningful differences among the vendors affected by this offer,” borough and university officials said in the letter.

Tavern association President Jennifer Zangrilli did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Pat Daugherty, owner of The Tavern, said Tuesday he had not seen the letter and could not comment. He said the downtown establishment owners have additional meetings scheduled and will continue working with the borough and Penn State.

It appears there will be no collective agreement among business owners in 2014, and officials said individual owners continue to weigh whether to close.

Last year, 34 downtown establishments agreed to close or prohibit the sale of alcohol and each received $5,000 each to make up for lost revenue.

The money came from Penn State, which used revenues from campus parking operations on previous State Patty’s Day celebrations.

“This year, funding will likely again come from auxiliary enterprises such as parking,” university spokesman Bill Zimmerman said in an email.

The money won’t come from tuition, state appropriations or private gift dollars, he said.

University and borough officials said the collective efforts of the community, including tavern owners, helped curtail alcohol-fueled incidents during the celebration last year.

For instance, Penn State police officers issued 46 citations in 2013, which was 60 fewer than they did in 2012. State College police saw a hefty decline in citations, too: 138 in 2013 compared with 222 in 2012.

There were 22 people taken to the hospital over the State Patty’s Day weekend in 2013, which was down from the past two years that saw three dozen people hospitalized.

The only statistic that didn’t fall off was the average blood alcohol level of people admitted to the hospital, which was 0.285 in 2013 and has been above and below that mark over the past five years.

“Obviously, the licensed establishments that sell and serve alcohol downtown are not the cause of the trouble State Patty’s Day brings,” Tom Fountaine, borough manager, and Damon Sims, Penn State vice president for student affairs, wrote in the letter to tavern owners.

“In fact, the hospitality vendors downtown have been good partners in trying to mitigate the event’s many harms,” the letter said. “Even so, State Patty’s Day remains the single most challenging day of the year for local law enforcement, the residents of various neighborhoods, emergency medical services, and our community’s image.”

Borough and university officials are intensifying efforts to discourage drinking on State Patty’s Day as the event set for March 1 nears.

The State Patty’s Day Task Force, a town-gown collaboration that includes university and borough leaders, business owners law enforcement and students, has held weekly meetings since Jan. 15 to discuss strategies for dealing with the event.

As in past years, the Penn State Interfraternity Council has banned social functions during the weekend, and the Panhellenic Council has adopted a no-guest policy for sorority floors at residence halls.

Students again will volunteer again to perform community service during the weekend.

“We have recognized how detrimental the event is to the Penn State community, and it is our hope that other students follow our lead and refrain from taking part in State Patty’s Day festivities,” Meaghan DeMallie, president of the Panhellenic Council said in a statement. “Instead, we urge students to join us in the State Day of Service and work to better the community on March 1.”