For Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark, Ninth Square development has been a double-edged sword.
A younger and hipper crowd drawn to local nightlife has brought much-needed pizazz and economic prosperity to the downtown district of nightclubs, bars and restaurants over the past few years, said Clark, who represents the area. But this younger crowd is also a “rowdier” crowd, she said, who may be contributing to problems of safety and quality of life for Ninth Square residents and older patrons of local establishments. And in light of two violent confrontations that occurred at downtown clubs over the weekend — including a shooting that left one 26-year-old New Haven man dead — several local business owners said they think this new, younger clientele may be causing more trouble than it is worth.
The two altercations occurred early Saturday and Sunday mornings at two separate clubs in the downtown district. In the first brawl at Hammer Jaks, at 201 Crown Street, three men involved in a knife fight sustained non-fatal stab wounds and were sent to Yale-New Haven Hospital.
The second fight occurred outside of Center Street Lounge at 84 Orange St. when an argument between two men resulted in a gunfight that killed one 26-year-old New Haven man. A 25-year-old Stamford man suffered a non-fatal gunshot wound in the leg.
Both clashes occurred at locations just blocks away from Yale’s campus, at clubs frequented by Yale students and organizations. Clark said the knife fight and shooting highlight the need for increased police presence in the area, as the relatively new bracket of younger patrons is already largely to blame for neighborhood problems such as littering, illegal parking and late-night disturbances. Clark said she would like the Ninth Square to be a “fun and exciting place” not only for young people but also for older citizens and families.
“We’re really concerned about how we can get a balance,” Clark said. “We want the Ninth Square to be exciting and wonderful, but we also want it to be safe, clean and not subjected to loud music.”
In Sept. 2007, a 19-year-old woman was hit by gunshots while sitting in her car across the street from BAR restaurant and nightclub. The woman survived the shooting, and since then there have been no other recorded shootings in the downtown district.
Clark said she has discussed the prospect of increased NHPD presence with other members of the community, but she said she is not certain greater numbers of officers will make a difference in keeping violent occurrences on weekend nights at bay. Already, she said, the NHPD is understaffed and cannot be asked to contribute much more personnel to the Ninth Square.
NHPD spokesman officer Joe Avery declined to comment in an e-mail about policing the area because of the ongoing investigation into this weekend’s crimes.
Meanwhile, several local business owners said instead that it is the responsibility of the clubs involved to look after the security of their clients.
Jonathan Lucibelli, owner of the Center Street Lounge for the past year and a half, said his club has always employed private security guards to prevent any violence from occurring inside. In addition to those guards, one NHPD police officer is stationed outside the club on busy nights — especially “hip-hop night” — and before Saturday night’s altercation, Lucibelli said his club had never experienced a problem with rowdy clients. Security guards, he said, ensure that no one enters the club with any form of a dangerous object and will even confiscate a woman’s glass perfume bottle to prevent patrons from breaking it and using it as a weapon.
In addition to hiring security for the club, Lucibelli said, Center Street Lounge also boosted the dress-code requirements in order to attract a higher-class clientele more congruent with the Ninth Square’s upscale reputation.
Maria del Monaco, manager of Hammer Jaks, did not return a voice message requesting comment Monday.
But managers of several surrounding clubs said they believe Hammer Jaks and Center Street Lounge have always attracted a more unsavory crowd, and increased police presence on the streets will not prevent younger, “rowdier” patrons from contributing to crime on the streets of the downtown district.
One bar manager, who asked to have his name and the name of his bar withheld to protect his business, said he had heard talk about increasing NHPD presence in the neighborhood, but the crime coming from the younger patrons has existed “for years,” he said.
“The security problems only belong to particular bars,” the bar manager said. “Either they get shut down, or they’re going to have to do something about [the security problem]. [The problem is] just going to stop more mature people from coming.”
But the recent bouts of downtown violence may also discourage student organizations from patronizing Ninth Square bars and clubs late at night.
James Smithy ’10, president of the Trumbull College Council, said that when the TCC rented the Center Street Lounge for its formal dance two years ago, he did not feel that it was unsafe or “sketchy” — just part of a “pretty standard New Haven neighborhood.”
But with the news of the recent outbreaks of violence, Smithy said the TCC would think twice about hosting another event at the Center Street Lounge in the near future, unless the establishment significantly ups its security measures. But even though the TCC selected the Cafe Bottega to host last year’s formal, Smithy said he felt the club did not employ nearly enough security for the hundreds of people inside the building at any one time.
Still, not all Yale organizations may have been discouraged from patronizing downtown establishments. Yale’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon held its biannual “Crush Party” at Hammer Jaks on Saturday night, the night after the knife brawl occurred in the same club. SAE President Ross Feinstein ’10 declined to comment for this story.
This Thursday, the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team will host a forum on neighborhood quality-of-life issues at 6 p.m. at the Omni Hotel.