Uptown core has become an entertainment hub with some consequences
By Andrew Soulsby, Special to the Chronicle
Uptown Waterloo has become the region’s entertainment district, with 39 licensed establishment located in its core. Butuptown isn’t without its problems.
These problems crop up after dark and on weekends and range from crimes and misdemeanours such as excessive noise and public urination to serious criminal acts like armed robbery and assault.
The most recent incident resulted in a 19-year-old being charged with three counts of assault, including assaulting a police officer, after police broke up an after-hours fracas involving seven men.
According to Sarah Doucette, a 20-year-old Conestoga College student, a typical weekend night in uptown Waterloo, “is filled with drunk people walking up and down King Street.”
Although she enjoys the uptown experience, she said she avoids some bars due to the negative reputation they have for frequent fights.
Simon Mitchell, a former bouncer with nearly two years of experience working at bars such as Revolution Night Club and McMullan’s Pub, attributed the fight nights to the heavy student population. “All along King Street, students are pretty bad,” he said.
During his years at McMullen’s, Mitchell said the clientele was typically older. But when students arrived they got rowdy and would start fights.
Insp. Kevin Thaler of the Waterloo Regional Police Service said students are often unfairly cast as the culprits for the late night troubles. The popularity of the core attracts people of all stripes.
“The perception from permanent residents is that it’s students causing the problems, however, it’s not only them,” he said. “It’s young people in general who are attracted to the large crowds.”
Among the 39 licensed establishments here, 11 are large clubs attracting big crowds.
The Uptown Business Improvement Area, a non-profit affiliation of core businesses whose mandate is to promote and beautify Uptown Waterloo, spent $70,000 on paid duty officers a one time to help keep an eye on those crowds. But that was three years ago.
Police Chief Matt Torigian ended the contracted police service because of the perception local police were being made available for private service.
“The service and the chief took the position that we’re the police service and (because) we’re properly staffed we should be able to, within our complement, police the cities and downtown core area adequately based on resources that are allocated and paid for by the taxpayers out of the budget,” said Supt. Kevin Chalk who heads the police service’s North Division covering Waterloo.
But Patti Brooks, executive director of the UpTown BIA, said the increased police presence did help. Since its removal, business owners have seen an increase in antisocial behaviour, like public urination and vandalism, after the bars let out at the night.
“The licensed establishments that are part of uptown Waterloo did notice a difference in crowd behaviour when we no longer had the arrangement that we did with the police,” she said. “But, having said that, we knew that we needed to continue being proactive in uptown Waterloo.
“That’s when we decided to engage the city of Waterloo and do weekend clean-ups on King Street and Regina Street on Saturday and Sunday mornings.”
In response to those concerns, Chalk said he’s put an uptown core patrol team in place, comprised of one sergeant and four constables whose job is to focus patrols on the area from the uptown core to Columbia Street and the heart of the student residences.
In January and February, these student-dominated areas saw a string of armed robberies in which students were targeted and local universities warned students about walking home drunk from the bars at the end of the night.
Chalk said police have been investigating those incidents and have made a number of arrests. “Our success rate is around 50 per cent, which is higher than normal for these types of crimes,” he said.
But as the bars close and well-lubricated patrons spill out on the streets, the increased police presence hasn’t stopped all the unruly behaviour.
The Chronicle observed the police presence doesn’t stop some with full bladders and light heads from stumbling into the nearest dark alley to do their business.
“This is downtown Waterloo and there’s a big problem with peeing,” said Hossein Youssefi, owner of Unique Shoppette in the core.
Located in the heart of the core, his store is connected to a parking lot at the back of the building. People have used the alley and parking lot as a rest stop and he has stumbled upon them often.
Last summer Youssefi took his complaints to uptown ward Coun. Melissa Durrell, but he said the city has done nothing to fix it.
Durrell agreed there are issues in the uptown, but said the city is managing them proactively.
“We’ve been having yearly meetings with the bar owners to talk about the expectations we have for them in uptown Waterloo,” Durrell said. “We also started the ‘It’s Your Waterloo’ campaign which is coasters and posters, and basically tries to get people to realize this is your city — you’re living in this city, respect your city.”
The campaign, launched three years ago, placed posters in washrooms and coasters on tables inside uptown bars and clubs to remind partiers about the ramifications of excessive noise and public urination. The fines start at $300.
According to Jim Barry, director of bylaw enforcement for the city, the campaign wasn’t necessarily aimed at reducing the number of drinking-related offences.
“It was aimed at bringing attention to the issues, which it has done and allowed us to be more effective in our enforcement,” he said. “That was more the key from our perspective.
“And as far as numbers, there hasn’t been a drastic decrease in the numbers.”
For Youssefi, his problem wasn’t solved until he took some action of his own. He finally convinced his building’s owner to install a light near the entrance. Since then, he’s seen an 80 per cent drop in people urinating behind the building.
But he suspects the problem has just moved on to some other dark corner of the core.
So as the party ends for the night and sobriety returns to King Street, it’s up to city workers to clean up any evidence of the night before.
It’s the price the city pays for a bustling uptown night scene.