Downtown Naperville has seen a steady decrease in crime over the past six months and police Chief Robert Marshall says his downtown safety plan appears to be working.
So the question facing city council members in coming weeks is whether adding a 19th late-night liquor permit might threaten that progress.
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Council members and Mayor George Pradel, who serves as the city's liquor commissioner, are weighing that issue as they consider a proposal by Ballydoyle owner Phil Cullen to "breathe new life" into the vacant former home of Rosebud at Chicago Avenue and Main Street.
Cullen says he wants to renovate the site and turn it "into a new concept for Ballydoyle."
"The Empire by Ballydoyle concept includes craft beer, craft burgers and live music for the 30 to 55 crowd," he said.
Council members say they have enjoyed Cullen's other Ballydoyle locations in Aurora, Downers Grove and Bloomingdale and believe him to be a responsible business owner. But his request for a late-night permit, which would allow him to serve alcohol after 11 p.m., and provide live music from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., could stand in his way.
The proposal is the city's first opportunity to consider increasing the number of late-night permits held by downtown establishments. The current ordinance, enacted in 2012, created 18 downtown permits enabling restaurants with Class B licenses to continue serving drinks from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Friday, and until 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
In a memo to council members, Marshall said any additional permits downtown would require "the commitment of additional personnel, overtime funds, or citywide reductions in service level.
"What concerns the police department is another 400 or 500 people exiting the premises in proximity with the other four or five (late-night establishments)," Marshall told council members during a recent meeting.
Those concerns got Pradel's attention.
"I'm thankful they want to locate in Naperville and breathe life into a vacant building but, because of size and scope, it would significantly impact our police resources downtown," Pradel said. "I'm concerned that we send mixed messages when we tell the police they need to take care of the situation and then we take another entity on and give them more responsibilities."
Councilman Grant Wehrli agreed, saying the city needs to be careful not to disrupt the "downtown mix."
"I'm not in favor of an additional late-night permit here because I think the Naperville image, as I see it, is one that is family friendly, that does not participate in adding insult to injury with some of the problems our police department is facing in downtown," he said. "I can't support this. It's not right for Naperville right now. Ten years from now, maybe, but not now."
Cullen, however, insists he sets the tone of his establishments early with a "This is my house, you have to enjoy it my way" attitude.
"A lot of issues with security stems from not setting the standards. Let's face it, we are a place that charges a cover and it's a $6 pint, not a $3 pint," he said. "And the food isn't cheap. We solve those problems just because the people we let in are our customers."
Council members Kenn Miller, Paul Hinterlong, Steve Chirico, Judy Brodhead and Joe McElroy, while not taking an official vote, all offered support for the plan.
"Here's an opportunity to have a responsible business owner, with a good track record in other cities, who is going to make a substantial investment to improve that property," Councilman Doug Krause said.
McElroy said he sees the plan for live music as "heading in the right direction" toward giving residents a variety of leisure options.
"After the dinner hour, there's not much to do other than going to the places where people end up getting very, very drunk," he said. "I think this is a good example of where we should expand."
Council members are likely to approve the proposal at their May 7 meeting.