Putting a price tag on Lepre-con

Can Hoboken ‘solve’ holiday house parties and pub crawls?

If you have suggestions about how to stem the number of ambulance calls and crimes that occur around holiday-themed bar crawls and house parties in Hoboken, the city is all ears.
Despite having 200 Hoboken police officers on duty and outer city backup last Saturday, the St. Patrick’s Day-related festivities resulted in 432 calls for police and emergency services, 35 people sent to the hospital (mostly for intoxication), and 15 people arrested – four more than last year. There were no sexual assaults were reported.
Days after the pub crawl, city officials responded in a variety of ways – talking about legislation or pointing out that things were either better or worse than years ago.
Officials say they are exploring ways to lessen the disorder that tends to coincide with these types of events (last Halloween saw partying as well). The events are not city sponsored, thus making them a tricky topic to tackle while the city pays over $100,000 in police overtime.
Some have suggested charging a fee for bars to promote or take part in the holiday-themed bar crawls.
The “Lepre-Con” pub crawl takes place on the first Saturday of March, with local participating bars offering drink specials. The event came into being after the St. Patrick’s Parade Committee (an independent group not connected to City Hall) discontinued the city’s traditional parade in 2012. At the time, city officials said they wanted to move the parade to a Wednesday to discourage the house parties and bar events that accompanied it. The St. Patrick’s Parade Committee refused, stating in a letter that having it on a Wednesday was “unreasonable.” That’s when independent promoters began having parties the first weekend in March instead.

“It’s a big day; our busiest day of the year that can carry us through lean months.” — Mike Gallucci
In terms of incidents, last year saw slightly higher numbers than this year’s Lepre-con: 459 calls for service, 39 people hospitalized, and 11 arrests. But both sets of numbers contrast from that of the year prior to the cancellation of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2011, with officials reporting 136 hospital trips, 525 calls for service, and 34 arrests.
However, this year, two police officers were injured and required hospital visits, making national news and causing officials to ratchet up the rhetoric.
This year’s revelry resulted in the issuing of 54 summonses (down from 93 last year) and 16 motor vehicle tickets. They were mostly for public drinking with some issued for urinating in public, despite 20 portable potties placed throughout the city at a cost of roughly $3,000 to taxpayers.

Cost of the cons

Councilman Ravi Bhalla told The Hoboken Reporter this past week that the city is “actively exploring” options to “put an end to this nonsense.”
“One approach is to see whether not we can have an event-fee structure that would un-incentivize bar owners to participate in or promote these kind of events…but execution and enforcement of that type of solution is still up in the air and subject to legal review,” he said.
Bhalla drew mixed reactions when he posted a list of participating bars on Facebook last week. He said that he posted it in response to a resident’s question. One commenter referred to the list as a “blacklist” and said the city should find other ways to deal with the issue than stigmatizing businesses for doing business.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer echoed Bhalla’s suggestion about the event fee in a statement sent via email.
“I share the concerns of residents,” she said. “We welcome people to visit and enjoy Hoboken, but the extreme intoxication that leads to violence and property damage is never acceptable…We are considering and evaluating all legal and legislative options to address future events.”
No changes will come in time for this coming weekend, when another pub crawl is planned.
With St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching on March 17, a pub crawl dubbed the “St. Paddy’s Day Weekend Pub Crawl” is scheduled in Hoboken for March 13-14, according to an EventBrite post on the internet.
Attempts to contact those organizers, as well as the coordinators of this past weekend pub-crawl, at emails listed online, were unsuccessful.

Businesses and residents chime in

A number of Hoboken businesses turned away bar crawl participants, they said, while others prepared to take them in.
Dan Grey and Mike Gallucci, who co-own The Grand Vin and Green Rock bars, responded a variety of ways.
“We opened at 5 p.m. but not during the day,” said Grey, referring to The Grand Vin, which opened for business late last month. “It was important to set the tone, and act almost like a safe haven for people going out. Of the thousands, a few ruin it for everybody. But in all it’s a good day to make money for some places.”
House parties in the mile-square city have started as early as 9 a.m. Legally, the bars can open as early as 6 a.m. according to municipal code, but they tend to open around 8 a.m. on the Saturday.
Gallucci, who has co-owned Green Rock for nearly 14 years, is used to Lepre-con by now.
“We go through this every year. Lepre-con now is a thousand times better than it once was,” said Gallucci. Green Rock is steps from the PATH station and often has long lines for admission, even during regular weekends. “What’s my take on it? It’s a big day; our busiest day of the year that can carry us through lean months.”

‘Disturbing’ behavior

After last weekend, Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante thinks it’s not worth it.
“I’m disturbed because when they have these types of events, like SantaCon or Lepre-con, it puts every resident’s life in the city at risk,” he said in an interview last week. “I saw a lot of places empty because people don’t want to deal with 20[something]-year-olds acting unruly. It really hurts businesses [like bars that don’t take part in the pub-crawl] outside of a select few. This promoter makes good money at the expense of good business in town and taxpayers.”
During the bar crawl mayhem in the wee hours of Sunday morning, a former Delaware Valley college running back, Christopher Smallwood, age 24, allegedly injured two police officers who were breaking up a fight in which he was allegedly involved. The fight was near McDonald’s on Washington Street at 2:30 a.m. Sgt. Steve Aguiar dislocated his shoulder and Det. Christine Collins suffered three broken ribs. Both officers were released from the hospital the same day and are out of work on injured status.
After successfully evading arrest, Smallwood, of Pennsylvania, later turned himself in.
Collins’ injury made national news.
Police overtime cost the city $111,000 — $86,000 for Hoboken police officers and $25,000 for out of town officers including units from Union City, North Bergen, and Westfield.
“I will not tolerate having any of our officers injured, for the purposes of a few to make a financial profit at the expense of our residents…” Ferrante said in a press statement following the pub-crawl.

Taking a shot

Residents had mixed feelings about the event.
“I usually leave town. It’s too much for me,” said Montana Cheal last week, while walking her dog Trig outside. Cheal has lived in Hoboken for two years and said even when she lived in New York City, she heard of Lepre-con.
“I came to it once about 10 years ago and it was really overwhelming,” she said. “It’s gross the next day. There’s vomit everywhere.”
Max Raevskii, 29, who lives in Brooklyn and sometimes visits Hoboken, said while heading to catch his train last week, “I think they have to keep it under control. It’s the younger kids drinking that may not be able to handle it as well. I’m Russian; we like to drink, but we don’t have people stabbing each other.”
To be fair, there were no reports of stabbings this year.
“I’ve kind of outgrown it,” said 29-year-old Rachel Falcon while standing outside her job on a break. Falcon was born in Secaucus and works in Hoboken.
“I feel they’ve increased the police presence, which is good. I think last year was my last year coming,” she added. “It’s more of the younger crowd now and they don’t seem to care about everyone else. They feel self-entitled when they drink and plus you know they’re drinking before they come so it makes it even worse.”
The Hoboken Chamber of Commerce did not provide a comment by press time.


Keeping the parade at bay

Many people have said that despite the negative publicity, this past weekend’s Lepre-con was quieter than expected. Which begs the question: If police have figured out how to handle such events, is it time for the city to bring back the St. Patrick’s Day Parade?
The city’s St. Patrick’s Parade Committee cancelled it in 2012, complaining that the city would only allow it on a weekday. Some have advocated for a compromise, such as having it on a Sunday, but so far, neither side has publicly discussed bringing back the 25-year tradition.
City Council President Jen Giattino, who said the smaller crowds at downtown bars surprised her this year, said she is not opposed to such an idea as long as the parade wouldn’t happen in conjunction with bar crawls.
“Mayor Zimmer would approve having a parade on a weekday evening, similar to our well-attended Memorial Day and Ragamuffin parades,” said City Spokesman Juan Melli, sticking to what the administration has said in past years.
Melli said the city’s Irish Festival, which will be held Saturday May 21, is how Hoboken currently honors Irish heritage. The event involves vendors, music, and traditional events for adults and kids.
Empanadas Café owner Pablo Spadavecchia thinks the police department did a good job this year, and it’s time to bring the parade back.
“I wasn’t open during Lepre-con but I was here preparing stuff, and I think the police walked up and down the streets and kept the crowds calm,” said Spadavecchia. “Yes, they should bring the parade back on a Saturday. It would be good for the town to make business, as long as the police are strict.”
Spadavecchia noted that a Sunday wouldn’t work as well, since most people have work or school the following day.
But that’s the reason some believe it would be a good day to hold an event without the accompanying house parties or bar crawls.
Zimmer, however, believes the quieting down of Lepre-con has to do with the cessation of the weekend parade.
“Compared to the last year of the parade in 2011, arrests are down 56 percent, ambulance calls are down 72 percent, and we have had an 82 percent reduction in ordinance violations,” said Melli. “What used to be an uncontrollable citywide event is now primarily contained to an area within a few blocks of the PATH.”
Emails to the parade committee were not returned by press time.

Steven Rodas can be reached at srodas@hudsonreporter.com.

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