In light of an increase in foot traffic and documented incidents along North Main Street in Saint Charles, Mayor Dan Borgmeyer announced, during a news conference on Jan. 25, that dancing and loud music would be banned in the 100, 200 and 300 blocks of the city’s historic downtown district. Police enforcement began immediately. The ban applies to businesses with liquor licenses and states that businesses and restaurants in this area must stop acting as nightclubs, which are not permitted to operate under the city’s zoning code.
“What happens is the restaurants, at 10 or 11 o’clock, close their kitchens and pull their tables apart and turn into a nightclub with dancing and drinking, which is not allowed,” Borgmeyer said. “The way that we chose to enforce stricter control was to say, ‘You cannot have a nightclub license. You cannot have dancing. You cannot have amplified music. You cannot have disc jockeys in these restaurants. You can have a restaurant license. You can serve food and liquor all the way up to 1:30 in the morning, but you cannot have this other behavior because that makes you a nightclub.’”
According to Borgmeyer, the goal of the restrictions is to stop nightclub activities, not stall restaurant profits.
“There are 18 restaurants in the area that we’re talking about, and there are about three to four that act as nightclubs,” Borgmeyer said. “So, this new step that we’ve taken is being lauded as being terrible for businesses and everything else, but about 14 of those businesses aren’t even impacted. They’re going to be able to stay open until 1:30 a.m., and they’re going to continue to stay in business and employ their people and make ends meet.”
Institutions like wedding chapels, which also allow music and dancing, are categorized as banquet centers and meeting spaces, which are allowed. Other locations outside the historic downtown area that allow drinking and dancing are not affected by these restrictions.
“We were able to enact (the code enforcement) without making it a complete city-wide restriction, and that’s where we’re starting,” Borgmeyer said. “That’s also where 90% of the citations are from.”
According to Lt. Thomas Wilkinson with the St. Charles Police Department, those citations include documented increases – specifically assaults – that have occurred on North Main Street since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019, before the pandemic outbreak, the department took four assault reports and responded to 31 assault calls, along with 13 disorderly conduct reports and 245 calls for disorderly conduct. In 2020, the department took nine assault reports and responded to 54 assault calls for service. They also took 17 disorderly conduct reports and responded to 266 calls for disorderly conduct. Those increases occurred despite restrictions on capacity mandated from March-December 2020.
In December, a fatal shooting took place in the 200 block of Main Street in a public parking that sits behind the businesses (to the east) and along Riverside Drive. Police officers were patrolling the area within 100 feet of the incident.
“We’re getting too much of that,” Borgmeyer said. “Now we’re getting random gunfire some times, and most of it is just shooting up in the air, and it’s all happening between midnight and 2 a.m.”
This isn’t the first time the city has implemented restrictions on North Main businesses with the intent of limiting noise and unruly conduct.
In late 2018, the City Council implemented a point system that allowed city leaders to revoke a bar’s liquor license if it exceeded 6.5 cumulative points in a given time period and for an assortment of violations ranging from underage drinking (3 points) to more serious violations, such as a homicide, which would score a 3.5. In February 2020, the city council modified its point system, lowering the amount of points assessed for violations such as underage drinking and overcrowding (now 2 points each) and establishing a Liquor License Appeals Board.
Then, in September 2020, Borgmeyer called for the same music and dancing restrictions along a four-block stretch along North Main to limit late night crowds. He stated at the time that the restrictions would be lifted after St. Louis County’s pandemic restrictions limited nightclub and restaurant capacity ended. St. Louis County eased its latest restrictions for indoor dining on Jan. 4; however, the crowds in St. Charles remain present.
Wilkinson confirmed to Mid Rivers Newsmagazine that “the area has also seen an increase in patrons frequenting North Main Street from outside the St. Charles County area.”
With these added visitors comes added traffic to all areas at all times, including restaurants.
“We have the capacity of 3,069 people on Main Street in all of the restaurants at code,” Borgmeyer said. “Obviously, in the pandemic, we should be below code, and most of the restaurants are staying somewhere between 25% and 50% occupancy.”
But he added, “We feel very strongly that we wanted our businesses to stay in business, so we didn’t restrict them as much as St. Louis, and as a result of that, we got that traffic (from outside of St. Charles). Sometimes as much as 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000 people on Main Street.”
Borgmeyer said the current restrictions also were created in light of social media ads attracting additional people North Main for nightclub activities.
“We know of some advertising surrounding nightclub activities on (certain) businesses’ websites and social media,” Wilkinson said. “The band or DJ (performing) will also advertise themselves on social media.”
Some of the activities listed in the social media advertising, according to Borgmeyer, also created concern.
“We have some bad actors that are running some ads on social media and attracting people out for these activities,” Borgmeyer said. “That’s fine, everyone is welcome, but some of those elements have things that are highly suggestive, and in my opinion, almost illegal, and bringing the wrong type of patrons to St. Charles … We’re trying to get a handle on that, and we think stopping the nightclub activity will also stop that kind of advertising.”
Borgmeyer noted that failure to comply with the new rules could result in the revocation of a restaurant’s liquor license. In the meantime, the city is continuing to meet monthly with both police officers and local business and restaurant owners to discuss solutions moving forward.
“I would rather everything be all calm and cool like it was before, but I’m also not going to let it get out of control,” Borgmeyer said. “No more shooting. No more gunfire. That has to stop. This is a new beginning, a new step, and I’ll continue to do more restrictive things until it stops.”