Pub crawl organizers should have to obtain a permit for each crawl and reimburse the county for the cost of extra police on the street.
That’s what Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan is expected to recommend to the County Board at its meeting later this month. Donnellan will recommend that pub crawls be classified as “special events,” subject to the county’s special events policy, according to county officials.
Arlington’s special events policy was last updated in 2012. The policy is designed to ensure that adequate resources are available for special events while allowing the county to recover its support costs.
Classifying pub crawls as a special event is seen as a compromise, somewhere in between the crawl participants who would like the events to continue unabated and residents who see the crawls as a nuisance and would like them curtailed. The events will continue, but in a more regulated environment, provided organizers can afford the extra costs.
“Organizers would have to get a special events permit and would be required to cover the costs of additional police, fire and trash services — above core services — generated by their event,” Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius told ARLnow.com. “At this point, the Manager’s recommendation does not include any minimum or maximum allowed numbers of pub crawls — the applications will be reviewed as they come in and approved based on the availability of resources.”
Donnellan’s recommendation is coming less than a month after an attendee at the All American Bar Crawl (photos from the event, above) allegedly stripped naked and led police on a car chase that ended in a crash in Clarendon. In an email to a concerned constituent, County Board Chair Jay Fisette addressed the incident.
“I want you to know that we have no tolerance for this kind of behavior. At the same time I want to stress that this incident was highly unusual,” Fisette wrote. “Our top priority is safety. The Board has concerns about the impacts of pub crawls and in April asked the Manager to research options to address these impacts.”
Fisette went on to say that pub crawls can be regulated, but not banned.
Clarendon is one of our most vibrant and lively areas. We support the businesses there, and we welcome visitors who patronize our many great restaurants, shops and pubs. We want to keep it a great place to live, visit, dine, work and shop. It’s important to know that, under Virginia law, we can’t ban pub crawls. We can, however, regulate pub crawls to ensure that they are safe for all and effectively managed. Part of that regulation must include ways that the County can recover some of the costs associated with the stepped-up enforcement activities during the events, and trash and litter cleanup after the events. In the meantime, as part of the FY15 budget, the Board approved one-time funding ($42,000) for overtime costs in the Police department while a longer term strategy is developed to address the increasing frequency and cost associated with pub crawl events.
In addition to the June incident, a bar crawl attendee made the news in March when she allegedly showed up naked at the Arlington Magistrate’s Office and demanded that she be allowed to visit her husband, who was arrested earlier that day during a St. Patrick’s Day-themed pub crawl.
Both bar crawls were organized by Courthouse-based Project D.C. Events. According to the company, the two events attracted a combined 8,500-9,000 registered attendees.
“It’s two incidents out of thousands of people,” said Project D.C. Events co-owner Alex Lopez, who also pointed out that neither happened inside a bar. Lopez and fellow co-owner Mike Bramson said they work closely with Arlington County Police and with participating bars to ensure there’s plenty of security on hand.
Neither could explain why bar crawls in Arlington have resulted in high-profile incidents and controversy while D.C.-based crawls seem to go off without a hitch.
“We’ve taken the same steps in D.C. as we do in Arlington,” Bramson said.
“You don’t hear about bar crawls in D.C. because nothing happens at them,” said Lopez. “If you say, ‘oh everything was peaceful in the last bar crawl,’ well, no one is going to read that.”
Bramson and Lopez said they and other bar crawl organizers shouldn’t be on the hook for the cost of extra police staffing because the events are already generating thousands in extra tax revenue.
“We’re bringing in more money to the county then it’s costing them to staff it,” Lopez said. “Most bars are making quadruple their sales on that day, which means quadruple the sales tax for Arlington County.”
Lopez, however, said he understands, as an Arlington resident, why other residents would want organizers to foot the bill.
“If I was just a citizen… I would think, ‘yeah who is paying for these?’ Oh the bar promoter should pay for it,” he said. “But I don’t think people are realizing… how much revenue is coming in to the county from all that sales tax.”
Nick Freshman, co-owner of Spider Kelly’s in Clarendon, which participated in the June bar crawl, agreed that the crawls are generating substantial added revenue for bars, the county, and even non-participating businesses.
“Our increased sales from these events result in lots of increased County revenue to pay for services,” he told ARLnow.com. “I think that the non-participating bars certainly see a rise in revenue as a part of the crawls, and I believe that goes for other businesses in the area as well — CVS, Trader Joe’s, banks, etc. That is due simply to the volume of people in the area, and that was true for us before we signed on.”
Freshman acknowledged that bar crawls inevitably result in drunken behavior.
“We generally welcome them because it boosts revenue substantially, and it brings new faces to the area,” he said. “They bring a lot of headaches, however. We spend a great deal of time and resources making sure everyone in the bar is behaving. There are always some incidents, but when you consider the amount of people coming into the neighborhood for these events, proportionally the incidents are minor.”
“I understand the complaints from neighbors and other citizens, and we have been working with them, the County and the organizers to address the issues,” Freshman continued. “I know from all my years in the business that no matter what we do prepare, no matter how seriously we take our responsibilities and no matter how diligent we are, somebody will always do something stupid that we can’t stop. If that is the case inside the bar where we control the environment, it is certainly true on the street where these incidents seem to take place.”
Freshman said he is wary of efforts to make pub crawl organizers or bar owners pay for an added police presence.
“Traditionally, what happens outside has been the responsibility of the County and that relationship has worked well for us and for them,” he said. “I don’t think that needs to change at this point.”