It's not unreasonable for local government and law enforcement officials to breathe a sigh of relief this week when Dennis Steffes announced he would not reopen the troublesome Last Call club at 729 N.H.
As Mayor Sue Hack said, "We don't have to worry about something similar (to last Sunday's shooting incident) happening at that location next weekend, and that is a relief."
However, as Hack and other city officials know, the closing of Last Call does not solve all of downtown Lawrence's current safety issues or prevent similar problems in the future. Too many Lawrence residents and visitors from out of town are uncomfortable with the current atmosphere downtown. A lack of parking often is cited, but equally troublesome for many are the people who roam the sidewalks asking for money or large unruly crowds that can seem threatening to some visitors.
As has been noted many times, downtown Lawrence has at least two, probably three, distinct personalities depending on the time of day. In the daytime hours, shoppers and business people dominate the streets. The evening is more about entertainment, movies and restaurants. Later in the evening and into the early-morning hours, a darker side of downtown surfaces. Even though recent incidents of violence have occurred in the early-morning hours when most residents are at home in bed, they have a lingering impact on the overall ambiance downtown.
Concern, of course, is heightened by new residential development downtown. It has been noted, often sarcastically, that Last Call likely would not have become a big issue if it hadn't been located directly across the street from the upscale Hobbs Taylor Lofts. There probably is some truth to that statement, and that's fine. Additional residential development could be a key to revitalizing downtown, but no one wants to live in a neighborhood where they are awakened by gunfire in the wee hours of the morning. If concerns for the residents and owners of Hobbs Taylor Lofts helped draw attention to Last Call, great.
Although Last Call apparently now is out of the picture, however, city and law enforcement officials can't allow their attention to this issue to drop. It wasn't that long ago that someone was shot and killed outside the Granada at 1020 Mass., and officials need to figure out a way to prevent other establishments from creating new havoc downtown. And at the same time, they must be careful not to simply push problem establishments to other parts of the city or county.
Perhaps vigorous enforcement of current nuisance laws will get the job done. If legislative action or new city ordinances are needed, however, officials should pursue all reasonable steps to secure downtown. Without a basic level of safety in the area, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain downtown as an active business, entertainment and residential center.