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Penn State Offers New Cash Incentive for Alcohol Ban on State Patty's Day

by on February 18, 2014 4:46 PM

With State Patty's Day less than two weeks away, university officials are now offering cash to downtown businesses in exchange for a ban on alcohol during the student-created, binge-drinking event.

University and borough leaders believe curtailing alcohol sales downtown is crucial to limiting the appeal of State Patty's Day, according to Penn State Spokesman Bill Zimmerman.

This year, a four-tier compensation system will be offered to individual establishments based on the occupancy levels of each, Zimmerman says.

Here's the scale:

- Businesses with occupancy of 350 or more: $7,500

- Businesses with occupancy from 250-349: $6,000

- Businesses with occupancy from 100-249: $5,000

- Businesses with occupancy levels less than 100: $2,500.

The university is expected to issue a letter shortly to business owners explaining the terms. Compensation is in exchange for establishments halting alcohol sales during the 24-hour period of Saturday, March 1.

"This new arrangement takes into account the diverse business models of the establishments, and we look forward to hearing from those business owners who will join us in making downtown safer," Zimmerman says.

In 2007, Penn State students created State Patty's Day as an alternative drinking celebration after learning St. Patrick's Day fell during spring break. Since then, the event has created alcohol-related mayhem downtown. From public drunkenness to vandalism to sexual assaults to alcohol poisoning, the event keeps first responders busy.

Last year, the university paid downtown businesses $5,000 each to not serve alcohol. Police say the ban significantly contributed to a roughly 37-percent decline in crime during the 2013 event.

According to the Mount Nittany Medical Center, during the 2013 State Patty's Day weekend, the emergency room saw 49 patients for alcohol-related events, the average alcohol level was 0.28, and the average age was 20. The hospital says 22 of the 49 patients were Penn State students.

Taxpayers ultimately end up paying for law enforcement services during State Patty's Day. State College and Penn State police departments place all officers on-duty throughout the weekend through overtime shifts.

Additionally, outside agencies come into the borough to assist, including neighboring police departments, Liquor Control Enforcement officers, Pennsylvania State Police, code enforcement officers and the Centre County Alcohol Task Force, which consists of police officers from throughout the county.

As of now, bars and taverns are expected to decide individually how they will handle the event.

There are also many other efforts underway to replace the drinking event with positive community events.

Since Jan. 15, the State Patty's Day Task Force has held weekly brainstorming sessions targeting the holiday. The task force is a town-gown collaboration, which includes representation from university and borough leaders, law enforcement, students and downtown business owners.

"The ill effects of State Patty's Day are pervasive, and we've been committed to a community-wide response," Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said in a statement. "It's not just a campus problem, it's not just a borough problem, it's not just a neighborhood problem. Only by working together will we bring an end to this."

The Penn State Interfraternity Council banned social functions during the weekend, and the Panhellenic Council adopted a no-guest policy for sorority floors at residence halls for the weekend.

Students from Greek organizations are expected to have a large presence during the State Day of Service, the annual student community service event coinciding with the drinking holiday. Roughly 1,000 student volunteers are expected to lend a hand at 835 locations in the State College area March 1.

For the 2014 State Patty's Day weekend, multiple activities will be taking place at University Park, providing students with a diverse lineup of alcohol-free alternatives. Among the events are women's and men's basketball games; and the student-organized TEDxPSU event, which will present 14 speakers covering topics from science to technology March 2.

Other anti-State Patty's Day efforts by the task force include:

- Local court officials will be urged to again impose maximum fines during the weekend and immediately process out-of-town violators.

- On Feb. 11, State College Police Chief Tom King met with a group of apartment owners, many of whom agreed to ban parties March 1 or notify tenants that parties are discouraged.

- A letter urging party restrictions is also being drafted to the holders of the borough's roughly 10,000 rental unit licenses.

- Danny Shaha, senior director of the Office of Student Conduct, will be composing a letter discouraging partying and warning of potential disciplinary measures that apartment owners can distribute to tenants.

- With State Patty's Day attracting college students from throughout the state, administrators at other institutions will be asked to discourage participation and discipline students who are arrested or cited in State College within their own off-campus discipline policies.

- After the first three hours of parking at normal rates, the fees in downtown parking garages and off-street parking lots will increase to football game day rates. Higher event parking rates also will be in effect on campus.

- Director of Athletics Dave Joyner will encourage student-athletes to avoid State Patty Day parties and to participate in the State Day of Service. Informational packets provided to visiting athletic teams will also include information discouraging State Patty's Day involvement.

- The Alumni Association will advocate for avoiding the drinking holiday in emails and social media aimed at the alumni network.

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Alcohol-Free Downtown on State Patty's Day Unlikely



Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government. jenn.miller@statecollege.com
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