Genaro C. Armas
STATE COLLEGE — Nearly three dozen downtown bars, restaurants and bottle shops have agreed to halt alcohol sales to counter an early St. Patrick's Day celebration created by Penn State students, the most aggressive effort yet to curb drinking for the unofficial "State Patty's Day" holiday.
In exchange, each business will receive a $5,000 subsidy to help account for lost revenue. A committee comprised of university and community leaders announced the plan Tuesday and listed 34 establishments that it said supported Saturday's "alcohol-free zone."
State Patty's Day was created in 2007 to celebrate St. Patrick's Day when it fell on spring break that year. But the holiday no longer falls during the break, and school administrators, student leaders and community residents have grown weary of a weekend that has become synonymous with excessive drinking and property damage.
"This is an outside-the-box solution that businesses, the borough, student leaders and the University have embraced," said Tom Fountaine, borough manager and co-chairman of committee known as "The Partnership: Campus & Community United Against Dangerous Drinking."
The weekend in recent years has also sparked talk on social media, which authorities have said has contributed to a spike in out-of-town revelers.
"Our goal is to end this excessive drinking event and keep students, residents and visitors safe," Fountaine said in a committee statement, which also included declarations of support from school, student and business leaders.
Police, along with community, school and student groups, have ramped up efforts in recent years to counter the excessive drinking that marks State Patty's Day. Fraternities and sororities banned parties for Friday, and all social functions Saturday. Volunteer opportunities have also been promoted as alternative activities in a "Day of Service."
Last year, authorities said that arrests dropped by about 13 percent to just under 300.
"I don't think it's a bad idea. If you ask me, State Patty's Day is pretty dumb," fourth-year senior Nick Stuchlak said about the no-alcohol zone. After meeting fellow senior Nick Mattise at the university's main gate downtown, Stuchlak said he doesn't do anything special for the day, which he equated to just an excuse to drink.
But Stuchlak and Mattise both questioned how the move would affect how non-Penn State visitors would act.
"I think we've learned better in the past year how to act, but people from out of town — this isn't their town," said Stuchlak, of Scranton. "They actually have no stock in acting correctly."
Said Mattise, also of Scranton: "It's gotten out of hand with the out-of-town people."
Freshman Jeremy Smith, of Lansdale, was a little skeptical, too. He said he doesn't plan on participating, but like Stuchlak noted that alcohol could still be purchased away from downtown.
"I don't know if it will have as big an impact as they think," Smith said. "There are so many places you can get things ... They would have to really, really go big scale to damper everything."
Money from parking fees collected during previous State Patty's Day weekends would be used to pay for the subsidies for businesses, said partnership co-chair Damon Sims, Penn State's vice president of student affairs. Student leaders have been instrumental in helping to address the problem, he added.
State' Patty's Day this year falls on the weekend after the annual student-organized Dance Marathon, an event that generates positive publicity for the university. Students raised a record $12.3 million for THON this year for pediatric cancer research and care.
Students needed to "consider the bigger picture of our actions," student government president Courtney Lennertz said in the joint statement. Food and non-alcoholic drinks would still be offered by establishments to appeal to "responsible visitors."
Jennifer Zangrilli, director of operations at Dante's Restaurants Inc., and president of the Tavern Owner's Association, said the association was "excited and proud" to support the alcohol-free zone. "Our collective desire is to see our community and downtown not only grow but thrive," she said.
Penn State's two campus hotels also planned to cut off alcohol sales Saturday.