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New Heritage Days chair faces stern police memo on public drinking

Greg Langbehn, new de facto chair of the St. Paul Park Heritage Days committee, ran headlong into a drastically reduced committee and a formal memo from city police recommending no street dance and no drinking on city property, at his first meeting on Tuesday.

The discussion grew so heated the committee forgot to formally nominate and elect Langbehn to the chairmanship, but that didn't stop the longtime city businessman and Lions Club member from following his agenda.

The memo from St. Paul Park Chief of Police Mike Monahan concerned the city's annual four-day festival in mid August which includes a Saturday night street dance and public drinking on the street. It noted that "alcohol consumption on public lands allows people to consume alcohol all day and into the evening. There is a significant risk of injury to the public associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

"The street dance has no real boundaries, lacks crowd control, control of underage alcohol consumption and allows persons to bring alcohol into the dance," the memo continued.

"There's nothing in the Chief's memo that hasn't been said for the past 10 years," said city council member Jeff Swenson, who attended the meeting along with fellow councilman Steve Hunstad. "We heard these objections this year from Chief Monahan when we approved slightly longer hours for the dance."

Swenson said it's the committee's choice whether or not to have a street dance and it's up to city council to allow or disallow drinking on the streets.

Hunstad recommended the committee make a decision and bring it to the city council as soon as possible, "so that we can take all factors into consideration.

"The council needs to see a request for boundaries on public drinking and times for the street dance. If there are problems, we'll work with you. We'll always have issues, it's just a matter of dealing with them."

During the brainstorming session that followed, Langbehn suggested Broadway Avenue be shut down Saturday and Sunday. He proposed fencing off a portion of the street, setting up a tent and allowing city bar owners to sell beer from kiosks within the area.

"We could sell wristbands to people buying liquor and control the underage drinking," he said. "We would also not allow coolers in the area."

Arlo Arlandson, co-owner of the Broadway Bar and Grill who attended the meeting, did not favor the suggestion. "Business is so heavy that we wouldn't have enough employees to staff the bar and the kiosk at the same time."

Swenson noted that in other towns, businesses set up beer gardens on their own property and hire their own security.

Committee member Willie Tennis said Heritage Days has been hosting the street dance for 25 years. "It's not broken, leave it alone," he added.

"My goal is to keep Heritage Days going," Langbehn said on Wednesday. "I want to maintain the status quo but something has to be done about the drinking."