Banning Underage People In The Entertainment District

March 21, 2012 Updated Mar 21, 2012 at 8:06 AM EDT

By WKBW News

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March 21, 2012 Updated Mar 21, 2012 at 8:06 AM EDT

BUFFALO, N.Y. ( WKBW ) Legislation approved Tuesday by the Buffalo Common Council would effectively ban anyone under 21 from entering a bar or tavern within a defined "Downtown Entertainment Review District" after 10p.m. on every night but Thursday.

Critics say it does little to solve the problem, while legal experts say it could be unconstitutional.

Attorney Barry Covert commented, "It really would be difficult for me to imagine how it could stand a Constitutional challenge on many different fronts."

This new ordinance, passed by the Common Council touched off a firestorm of controversy, as it seeks to ban anyone ages 18-20 from downtown establishments defined as taverns after 10p.m., with the exception of Thursday night.

Ellicott District Councilman Rev. Darius Pridgen stated, "This doesn't apply to, for instance, a restaurant. A family wouldn't have to leave a restaurant with their children at 10 o'clock. This is for those that are mainly taverns, alcohol and or dance is the main event."

The city defines a tavern as an establishment where alcoholic beverages are sold for on site consumption, and which the service of, if served at all, is incidental to the sale of the alcohol. It also excludes bars located in a hotel or motel.

The State Liquor Authority however requires any liquor license holder to serve food at their establishment.

Covert said, "So it would immediately appear that all establishments who have liquor licenses already serve food on more than an incidental basis."

The other area of concern comes to enforcement.

The law calls for anyone found in violation of the ban to be shut down for the night by a Buffalo Police officer.

Attorney Covert added, "They are in effect acting as law enforcement, the prosecutors and the judge, all in one fell swoop, shutting down the establishment for the event, thereby costing the establishment potentially tens of thousands of dollars, they they are then going to have to sue to recover."

The ordinance is also viewed as unfair for businesses that fall within the defined zone, stretching from Main Street to Elmwood Avenue, and from Tupper St. to Seneca in the south.

Any clubs or taverns just outside that district would be subject to the under 21 ban.

Mike Slydel, the Chief Financial Officer for Club Marcella on Main Street told Eyewitness News, "If we don't do 18 and over, someone will open up, and do 18 and over, and we will lose our crowd, because the kids will go over there, and then the 21-24 year olds will follow. After that, the crowd joins them at the new place."

Slydel manages clubs in Buffalo and Miami, and based on his experiences, this ban would do little to address the issues of violence.

Slydel added, "No one is disputing that co-mingling could be a factor, and it could be an important one..but to focus on that at the exclusion of all other factors, given the clear evidence and research, i think is a mistake."

Pridgen continued, "This was a middle of the road...let's do something instead of nothing. We are approaching the summer, it's important that we make sure our city is safe for all residents."

Some club owners say this measure doesn't go far enough, and that government needs to do even more.

Meanwhile, Mayor Brown may still veto the bill. When reached for comment, a spokesman told us that he will be reviewing the legislation with the city law department.