The Costs of Boozing, Bloody Well Boozing // Eliot Singer

I see the 50-50 rule is being dissed again. For those who do not know the history, the 50-50 rule says that half the revenue from bars and restaurants must come from food not booze. This rule was at behest of the Responsible Hospitality Council, a group of businesses who recognized the need for responsibility when it comes to boozing, bloody well boozing (to quote an old English boozing song).

Whether or not the rule has helped over the years is impossible to prove. It was undermined by having several establishments grandfathered in who did not have to comply and the subsequent increase in liquor licenses because they were allowed after downtown East Lansing was declared a redevelopment zone under state law.

My argument has been that places like downtown East Lansing should never have been eligible for redevelopment zone designation—EL downtown never fit a rational definition for DDAs and brownfield projects—and even after, added liquor licenses, usually on the pretext of fine-dining or appealing to someone other than college students, 11 PM closing should have been mandated.

No one has suggested an alternative to 50-50, just claimed 50-50 doesn’t work (using anecdotal evidence). Maybe nothing works. What has appalled me over the years is the attitude problem from city hall. If you are going to talk about a good faith effort on keeping irresponsible drinking down being ineffective, you also need to talk about the costs of irresponsible drinking, both social and financial.

I’ve lost track of the statistics, but a large percentage of college students drink to get drunk (St. Paddy’s day and March Madness being prime opportunities). Trying to prevent drunk driving and making sure sick-drunk underage drinkers are free to get help are important. But there is insufficient education, including about higher alcohol percentage craft beers.

As we know, alcohol is a major contributing factor to sexual assault and the hard-to-prosecute morning-after regrets. I still think the city attorney should be fired for insensitive excuse making over failure to prosecute, among many, many other reasons for firing him. Many homeowners in near-campus neighborhoods have long complained about at least a de facto policy of turning a blind eye to drunkard behavior of those going to and from downtown bars. No, home invasion by drunkards is not normal college student behavior.

City hall has also been unwilling to talk about financial costs. The harm to property values of neighborhoods subject to passing drunks is hard to ascertain. Analysis of the cost of policing for a college town showed about $3 million per year more than it would be for a middle-class city, not including the impact on legacy costs, which are mostly for cops. The DDA district is still paying for public safety at 1991 level, and none of those brownfield projects, mostly for rich college students with more bars, pays taxes. I’m still laughing about the attempt to pretend the Lotto 1 Target is going to make money selling fresh fruits and salads when the national business press was talking about Target grocery strategy of selling more booze.

I ain’t got no expectations that city officials will take their distaste for 50-50 to engage in a long overdue discussion of the social and financial impact of boozing in a college town. But they should.


Eliot Singer

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