Over the past five years, excessive drinking at Heritage Days resulted in police reports of: DWI, underage consumption, assault, public urination and medical emergencies — including a man crawling close to the train tracks last year that could have been a tragic death if not for a St. Paul Park policeman in the right place at the right time.
Something tragic almost happened last year, and to prevent something tragic from actually happening this year, it’s time that the Heritage Days committee put greater restrictions on drinking at the annual festival.
The free-for-all system where attendees bring their own drinks, or buy alcohol at the bars and then walk from place-to-place with their beverages is too lenient.
The first and most obvious step planners ought to take is containing the drinking area by establishing one or more beer gardens — fenced-in areas where only drinking-age people are allowed and no alcohol can be brought in or taken out.
This will prevent people from bringing their own supply of alcohol, and help prevent underage drinking. These beer gardens should be manned by people who are well-trained in identifying people under age 21, and in knowing when someone is too intoxicated to be served.
If the city’s bars don’t have the manpower to staff the bars themselves and the beer garden, why not let a local civic group manage and profit from beer garden sales?
The local bars will still make a lot of money because of all the extra traffic to St. Paul Park.
Many community festivals sell wristbands that are required to get into the beer gardens as a way of identifying people of drinking age. A civic group could also be put in charged of this task, and allowed to fundraise while at the same time preventing underage drinking.
Someone who drinks excessively at Heritage Days isn’t just dangerous to themselves, but if they get in a fight or behind the wheel of a car they can become dangerous to others. Public safety demands organizers do more to protect everyone who enjoys Heritage Days this year.
The St. Paul Park Public Safety Commission will meet Monday to discuss proposed rules governing public consumption of alcohol at the city's annual Heritage Days celebration.
The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at at St. Paul Park City Hall, 600 Portland Ave.