by Doug Stephenson

The midnight curfew for bars and restaurants in Marion County will not work for the NCAA tournament in March. While I am not a health professional able to debate the efficacy of the curfew as a deterrent for covid spread, I have looked at the tournament schedule, and know the Downtown area better than most. From a practical and logistical standpoint, if the city does not relax the curfew, they will be asking bars and restaurants to close before the final games even end, kicking out paying visitors, and refusing service to exiting fans looking for a late night snack.

The Downtown and Midtown (Hinkle, Fairgrounds) area will host games whose final  tipoffs range from 9:30 to 9:50 pm for every round. Because the average televised basketball game runs 2hours 15minutes realtime, the late games on the schedule will have final buzzers after midnight- and possibly as late as 1am with an OT game. If the city and MCHD allow these venues to host literally thousands of guests with food and drink past the 12am curfew, then it’s unfair to expect the 120 seat bar&grille across the street to give last call and boot their 60(50% capacity)customers into the street to try and rush back to a hotel room to catch the end of the game.

We should also acknowledge the reality that there are going to be a number of college kids and younger adults in town for the games who simply don’t keep the same hours us oldsters do. Most vicenarians don’t think about eating or socializing until 9pm when they’re on a road trip. When they get out of Bankers Life at 12:30am  they will want food, and yes drink, for at least an hour to wind down from the excitement of the game. I would much rather have them spread out into all the downtown venues, than cram into the few rogue bars down here running speakeasy rules that have lead to parking lot fights at 2am. Visitors to games in Midtown will require at least 45 minutes to get back downtown before they can slip out for something to eat.

While I expect a promotion of the idea that visitors will just order delivery into their hotel rooms, this will lead to people ordering what they know– McDonalds and Dominos, or get hold of GrubHub to leech all the profits off one of our local restaurants who could have responsibly served them in-person. And has anyone ever enjoyed a meal in a hotel room other than room-service? No.

City officials need to work with Dr. Kaine to adopt a plan that safely allows Marion County restaurants to be open until 2am starting in March. We have a chance to showcase our city to the world next month. Let’s not show ourselves as the “Naptown” who shuts off the lights and rolls up the sidewalks at 12am.

Doug Stephenson is a downtown merchant.