Unannounced street closings irk Fells Point business owners

Police shut down blocks, banned parking in others on New Year's Eve

January 03, 2003|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Some Fells Point bar and restaurant owners say they lost business New Year's Eve when the Police Department closed streets and banned parking in the area without warning merchants.

Although police deny that any customers were kept away, Maj. Jack Long of the Southeastern District said he should have told businesses of the measures, which, he said, were needed to ensure public safety.

"It was kind of a last-minute decision," Long said yesterday. "It's the only thing I kind of regret: not informing the community."

Long said the street closings and parking restrictions were prompted, in part, by crowd disturbances in Fells Point on Halloween and reports of a New Year's Eve party to be held at a nightspot where shots had been fired outside in nearby Canton.

Business owners and police plan to meet to discuss the matter, but the disagreement underscores a tricky issue: How can police keep a lid on rowdy behavior in club-crowded Fells Point without inflicting economic hardship on proprietors?

"We have to figure out a way to work together," said Patrick Russell, who owns Kooper's Tavern on Thames Street. Russell estimates that he lost $3,000 in business Tuesday night. "Friends of mine who own bars and restaurants in Canton think it's funny. They were packed."

Russell said he got to work Tuesday morning and saw "No parking" signs on lampposts on Thames and other Fells Point streets.

Long had decided the night before to limit parking and to close two blocks each on Broadway and Lancaster Street to traffic in the evening. The goal, he said, was to keep paths open for emergency vehicles in case there was a repeat of problems that occurred on Halloween.

"There were atrocious fights and atrocious people in Fells Point on Halloween night," Long said. "I was one of those who got thrown between two parked cars."

Long decided to close some streets to traffic because he had learned that a big party was likely at Fusion, a nightclub on Boston Street in Canton. That worried him because shots were fired in the air outside the club recently.

Another concern, Long said, was a party planned for a Teamsters hall on Erdman Avenue.

Although neither the hall nor Fusion is in Fells Point, Long said he has to maintain order in the entire Southeastern District. In that sense, Fells Point was affected by events elsewhere, he said.

Crowds in Fells Point were smaller than police had expected, so Lancaster Street and Broadway were reopened at 11 p.m.

However, merchants said, by that time their businesses had been affected.

"At one point we had a real nice crowd, but that crowd didn't build until really late," said Ron Furman, owner of the bar Max's on Broadway.

Mike Beckner, who owns Brick Oven Pizza at Broadway and Lancaster Street, was more blunt: "In plain words, [the police] screwed us, segregated us from the rest of the city." He estimated that his business was down 29 percent, or more than $3,000, from projections.

Furman said that everyone wants to ensure the safety of police and the public, but he thinks that closing streets is an excessive measure, except perhaps on Halloween.

But Long said that more street closings might be in store - only without the element of surprise that occurred New Year's Eve. "We're going to come to some type of agreement," he said, "so everybody knows what block is going to be closed down and what's going to be opened."

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