Hoboken Councilman Chasing Permit Pot O’ Gold at the End of the LepreCon Rainbow
Hoboken’s hospitality scene is legendary. Its pubcrawl scene is becoming notorious.
Last December, the Mile Square City made international news as as HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver mentioned the Mile Square City in his segment on SantaCon.
Referencing the 2018 fracas—which saw 14 arrested, 46 tickets issued, 33 ordinance violations, and 4 Hoboken Police Officers injured in a brawl—Oliver opined, “Just think about that. ‘Arrested doing SantaCon in Hoboken, New Jersey.’ That might be literally the saddest sentence in existence.”
With SantaCon’s evil green twin, LepreCon, right around the corner, Hoboken First Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco has proposed legislation aimed at creating additional oversight when these ‘Cons come to Hoboken. An ordinance that will be introduced during Wednesday night’s City Council meeting calls for participating bars and businesses to pay an application and permit fee, with the revenue generated theoretically being used to offset public safety and cleanup costs that are part of the inevitable hangover from these events.
“Holiday pub crawls have long been a nuisance to the quality of life in my downtown neighborhood,” said DeFusco. “While we cannot limit a person’s right to visit multiple bars in celebration of a holiday, we as a city cannot afford to foot the bill for additional safety and cleanup costs, especially as this administration continues to overspend and put Hoboken in a multi-million financial deficit. Introducing a commonsense permitting process will ensure the city recoups some of the operational costs for pub crawls. Many of Hoboken’s bar owners rely on high traffic days to meet their bottom line for the year and this proposed legislation will incentivize owners and help them, succeed while not over burdening taxpayers.”
The ordinance would allow bar owners to utilize their outdoor cafe space during certain hours on pub crawl days, which DeFusco claims would allow for more patrons to help offset the costs of the permit.
Pubcrawls, as defined by the ordinance, would include any instance where two or more licensed Hoboken hospitality venues hosted events that would potentially attract 300 or more revelers. In order to get the City’s permission to host such an event, the venues would need to secure a permit—at a cost of $3,000. Those venues looking to utilize their outdoor space would need to pay an additional $1,000.
Bar owners we spoke with weren’t really sold on that idea.
Dave Jacey, owner of Black Bear, Mills Tavern and a number of other downtown Hoboken venues, tells hMAG, “It’s a shame that he doesn’t talk with any of the stakeholders when he’s proposing this kind of legislation.”
Another bar owner told us, “they should have two occupancies—one with furniture and one with furniture removed, so the bars and bartenders who are certified could take care of customers, rather than letting these house parties get out of hand.”
A long-standing argument among those familiar with Hoboken’s bar scene is that the problems of LepreCon and SantaCon came about as a direct result of the City cracking down on the renowned Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The traditional event on the first Saturday in March was once a community-wide celebration, but many feel it deteriorated in the face of a clampdown on bars that ultimately shifted the festivities from controlled venues to unregulated residential parties.
“An easy way to fix all of this is to bring back the parade,” said Jacey.
***OPINION: The Strong Case for Restoring the Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day Parade***
A number of proposals have been put forward for doing just that—involving a world-class cultural event on Pier A, with bars and restaurants ultimately benefiting from a steady surge in foot traffic all day long, rather than the tsunami of green that crashes against their doors as early as 8:00 a.m. for LepreCon.
In regards to DeFusco’s proposal, which could potentially be enacted in time for this year’s LepreCon event, Hoboken Police Chief Ken Ferrante stated, “It is impossible for me to give an opinion or statement at this time, on a first reading of an ordinance that I have not seen yet. When I receive it, I will sit down with our ABC Investigators Lieutenant Charles Kucz and Detective Anthony Caruso to get their opinion on it since they are the ones in our City, who handle ABC Enforcement, along with the State A.B.C.”
Ferrante has never minced words when it comes to his displeasure with Con events, historically lighting up his twitter feed with blow-by-blow updates on the day’s shenanigans.
The organizers & participating bars set up a wristband (at a cost) system w/drink specials & try to publicize the event as a “charity” event, urging those coming to the city to bring toys for underpriviledged children. That’s a sham as I didn’t see 1 person in 20 hrs with a gift.
— Chief Ken Ferrante (@KenFerrante) December 8, 2019
“We will always deploy personnel based on data analysis, just like we do for all Con events and any other large annual events. I appreciate and welcome any ordinance that can continue to help us curb SantaCon or any other events that bring outside promoters who make money by advertising Con events as charitable events, where we never hear what was collected and donated to charities.”
hMAG also spoke with a city employee who said that similar initiatives have been explored in the past, but raised concerns about enforcement and municipal liability.
Hoboken’s next City Council meeting will be held on Wednesday, February 5.