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Rock Island city council votes to change closing time for bars to 2 a.m.

Rock Island city council votes to change closing time for bars to 2 a.m.

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It's last call for late night bar hopping in Rock Island.

City council members voted Monday night to permanently change bar closing times from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m., ending decades of twilight-hour drinking and a tradition of customers crossing the bridge from Iowa to take advantage of Rock Island's later closing times. 

Council members and Rock Island police say the move was necessary to make the city safer following a summer of violent incidents in the downtown bar district, including the shooting death of a 43-year-old man that led the city to impose a curfew the following night.

Terry Tilka, owner of Rock Island Brewing Company (RIBCO) and 2nd Avenue Dance Club, slammed the decision and accused the city of micromanaging bar owners.

"If these (liquor) licenses go from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m., in my 42 years of experience in this business, there won't be anybody left down here," Tilka said. "Your downtown will be empty, the nightlife will go away."

Tilka said he was asked decades ago by the city council at the time to come to Rock Island to help build the downtown into an arts and entertainment district.

"Do you think closing us an hour earlier is going to solve anything? The only thing it's going to solve is you're not going to get the tax revenue, there's going to be less kids working jobs.

"If this goes through, I am not reopening," Tilka said. "I'm just letting you know. I'm leaving — I'm selling my bars, I'm selling my buildings, I'm leaving. I am not staying here."

Tilka reminded council members of his role in "putting Rock Island on the map" and his successful years of bringing in bands from all over the world to play on the plaza, which attracted huge crowds. 

"This place will be a ghost town in a year, I promise you," he said. "This is 42 years of experience talking."

Alderman Ivory Clark, Ward 1; Alderman Dylan Parker, Ward 5; and Alderman Dave Geenen, Ward 7; voted against the earlier closing time. It was approved on a first reading of the amended ordinance. A special meeting will have to be called prior to Feb. 28 for a second reading and approval of the amended ordinance. 

Parker said the issue they are trying to solve is public safety in the downtown area and closing bars earlier was "not necessary."

"I think this is a distraction from what this council needs to do," Parker said. "I think it's a little premature."

Alderman Randy Hurt, Ward 2, said the city can always revisit a 3 a.m. closing time for bars if certain safety measures are put in place, including additional lighting or possibly removing the pedestrian plaza and turning it back into a street. 

Alderwoman Jenni Swanson, Ward 4, agreed.

"This is not something that is written in stone," Swanson said. 

Clark pleaded with council members to reconsider their decision prior to the vote. He said changing the closing time to 2 a.m. would not make the city any safer and it would hurt business owners. Swanson said bars on the Iowa side seem to have no problem bringing in revenue, despite closing at 2 a.m.

"I prefer to put people over profits," she said. 

Alderman Mark Poulos, Ward 6, said he would reconsider changing bar closing times back to 3 a.m. only if "we have done the responsible things we need to do to make it a safe place."

Mayor Mike Thoms said the business owners are not the cause of the problem, but they are being punished. He said the safety problem is being caused by people who loiter in the plaza and cause trouble. 

"It's because there was an area to gather," Thoms said. "But at the same token, this will send a message and reduce the opportunity for it to happen. Although, this is just one piece of it along with potentially eliminating the plaza, having lighting and different types of businesses down there. We should revisit this in the future.

"I feel bad for the businesses, there's no doubt about it. I really do."

Geenen said it comes down to public safety and perception.

"If we say our (downtown) is dangerous, then people won't come, that's true," Geenen said. "It's about creating a safe downtown and changing the perception, whether it's 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. We're investing in the safety of our downtown."

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