Noting credible evidence that two bars at Power Plant Live served alcohol to underage college students, the city liquor board fined the developer who controls the entertainment venue $800 yesterday for violating state liquor law and vowed to forge ahead with legislation that would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to enter a bar in the city.
Attorneys for Power Plant Live, which is controlled by developer David S. Cordish, and the bars argued that their clients do the best they can to prevent underage drinking.
Liquor board members said it was clear from police reports and testimony that Bar Baltimore and Have a Nice Day Cafe, which are owned by the same management company, had served underage students on two occasions in the fall.
City vice police who regularly patrol Power Plant Live on Thursdays, when several bars host College Night, had filed other violations with the liquor board, but in the end, the liquor board said it could not prove that the bars involved had violated the law.
In one case, bar management produced witnesses who disputed the police officers' testimony, and in several others underage students who had been summoned to account for their actions failed to appear, for unknown reasons.
The fine for Power Plant Live, which operates under an arena license that allows each of its tenants to serve alcohol, was relatively small because it was the first time the venue had been called in for a violation hearing.
In the future, fines for violations could be much higher. In recent months the liquor board has fined bars with a history of serving underage patrons as much as $6,000, and in one case it forced a licensee to sell her license because she could not prevent problems.
"We are going to keep pressing this until people get it," said Commissioner Edward Smith Jr., who added that he would have fined Power Plant Live more but he was overruled by the other members of the board.
The violations were reported by city police who frequent College Night at Power Plant Live, a complex of restaurants, bars and concert venues in downtown Baltimore. In recent months, they have cited or arrested about 165 underage drinkers in and around the complex and caught 55 revelers using fake IDs, urinating in public, carrying open containers of alcohol, abusing drugs or fighting.
Asked whether he was upset that some of the violations were dismissed, Sgt. Craig Gentile, who heads the College Night patrols, shook his head.
"I'm just doing my job," he said.
An attorney for Mosaic, an open-air bar at Power Plant Live, presented witnesses who rebutted an allegation that the venue allowed patrons to serve themselves from a bottle of vodka, which would violate the liquor law. The citation was dismissed.
Two other violations for underage drinking at Power Plant Live were dismissed because students who were summoned to appear before the board did not show up. Liquor board officials said they would take action against the students to find out what prevented them from appearing.
Liquor board Chairman Mark S. Fosler said he was pleased that Power Plant Live management had agreed to support legislation that would ban anyone under the age of 21 from city bars, which would put an end to College Night festivities.
Fosler has been meeting with local bar owners and some in Baltimore County to see whether there is support for the legislation. Several other Maryland counties have enacted similar legislation, and officials in those jurisdictions say it has helped to cut down on underage drinking.
"I think the commitments made today will go a long way to getting legislation going," Fosler said.
Reed Cordish, David Cordish's son and vice president of the Cordish Co., which manages Power Plant Live, said he is "100 percent" behind the liquor board's legislative push. However, asked whether he would move to shut down College Night events in anticipation of the bill, Reed Cordish said he could not be sure his company's contracts with the tenants would allow such action.
"The bars are independent operators," he said.
Reed Cordish also promised to work with Towson residents who have complained about school buses that come into their neighborhoods to pick up college students to take them to Power Plant Live. Residents have complained for years about students who line up in front of their houses about 8:30 p.m. to meet the buses and then disembark at 2 a.m. or later, often drunk.
Power Plant Live officials and bar managers said yesterday that they used to hire the school buses to pick up students at Towson University, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, McDaniel College and others, but that they stopped the practice in 2003 when those campuses banned the buses.
Police have tried to figure out who is still hiring the buses, but bus company owners refuse to tell them.