Members of the Downtown Lawrence organization complained to city officials Monday that the patrons of some downtown drinking establishments are causing problems including running off an established business near Eighth and New Hampshire streets.
Andy Ramirez, DL vice president, said that patrons of AJ's Eighth Street Bar and the nearby Red's Place have created an "undesirable" element in the area. The problem, he said, has led to building vacancies and tenant complaints and is a contributing factor in the Price Appliance store's decision to relocate outside downtown.
The DL members met in an afternoon study session with the Lawrence City Commission and City Manager Mike Wildgen.
THE CO-OWNER of AJ's, which also is known as "Ricky Dean's," today said he knows of loitering problems near his club but said that in the two years he's owned the club, he's worked to improve its reputation. He also said he was disappointed that the DL would go to the city with its complaints before meeting with him.
"It's got to be affecting property values in that particular area. I know one building that's vacant," Ramirez told the commission. "I know another building at Eighth and Massachusetts that I know is going to be hard to sell in part because of that problem."
Mack Price, owner of Price's Appliance, said he expects to sign a contract next week for a new store on 31st Street. He said he'll be off New Hampshire Street by April, when the lease at his current store expires.
"When it's unsafe to go to my store in the evening and unsafe to stay open after 6, that's a good reason to move," Price said.
Price said he's been threatened coming out of his own store. His wife has been harassed going to her car. Windows in the building have been broken. And numerous other times he's seen drunken people bothering his store's patrons.
Price said the situation with the bar clientele wasn't his sole reason for leaving downtown. "I also feel like New Hampshire Street is a step-child of downtown," he added.
"IT'S A REAL shame," Ernie Cummings said of the situation. Cummings recently moved his jewelry store from the corner of Eighth and Massachusetts to the center of the 800 block of Massachusetts.
"I personally believe that this area is really a little jewel waiting to happen," he said. "One business is keeping this whole two, short-block area from developing. It could be a nice office area, it could support retail."
But Patrick Conroy, co-owner of AJ's, said he's worked to clean up the reputation of the club.
"We purchased the bar roughly two years ago, and we were aware of the problems," Conroy said today. "We've really tried to change those things because they're not good for our business either."
He blamed most of the trouble in the area on loiterers at the corner of Eighth and New Hampshire.
"The people who hang out on that corner and it's a big hang out they're not permitted in here. This is a private club, and we've barred many of those people from coming in here."
CONROY SAID he tries to take care of problems inside the bar, but doesn't know what to do about the loitering down at the corner.
"If the police were to hang out there every night, that would be wonderful," he said. "But I don't think that's their job."
The DL representatives did ask the city officials for increased police patrols in the area. Wildgen didn't commit to the request, but did say that Police Chief Ron Olin knows of the situation.
"I don't think we have to tell Ron that this is a hot spot. He knows that. Pizazz is a hot spot, Los Amigos is a hot spot; we've got several."
Conroy said he was disappointed he heard about the DL's concerns from the news media instead of directly from the DL. He said he would be in touch today with Ramirez, Lawrence police and representatives of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, which licenses AJ's, to see whether they could meet to discuss the problems.