May 28, 1998 Burger King owner Nick Patronas says he’s closing his downtown restaurant in part because of problems with crime and unruly youths. (Bob King / News-Tribune) ANOTHER TENANT LEAVING 200 BLOCK OWNER CITES YOUTH, VAGRANT PROBLEMS
May 28, 1998
Burger King owner Nick Patronas says he’s closing his downtown restaurant in part because of problems with crime and unruly youths. (Bob King / News-Tribune)
ANOTHER TENANT LEAVING 200 BLOCK
OWNER CITES YOUTH, VAGRANT PROBLEMS
Business leaders told Duluth city councilors last year that there would be casualties if something wasn’t done to control the crowds of youth, homeless people and drunks hanging out on the 200 block of West Superior Street.
Now one business owner is proving them right. Burger King franchisee Nick Patronas says he is closing his downtown restaurant Friday in part because of problems with crime and unruly youths.
"We have more problems in one day downtown with customers and people hanging out than we do in a month at all the other six restaurants we have," Patronas said Wednesday.
Patronas and several other business owners on the block say their customers have been intimidated by crowds of youth and others killing time waiting for buses or meeting friends. And while the situation is improving, many complain the problem is still affecting business.
Patronas’ decision to close is another blow to what traditionally has been the heart of the downtown retail business district. Burger King sits directly across from the Holiday Center, where one tenant after another has moved out for various reasons. Filling those holes has been difficult in part because prospective tenants are concerned about a small number of disruptive youth and other unwelcome visitors.
"How many casualties do we have to have before we stop and say, ‘Gee, we need to fix something,’ " said Barb Perella, who is in charge of renting space at the Holiday Center. "I’ve had several casualties, and it worries me about downtown."
Perella and other downtown business leaders failed in their bid to privatize much of the center’s public walkways last year. The plan was designed to give merchants and Holiday Center management the authority to monitor and police their business environment much the same way merchants do in private malls.
But city councilors balked after youth and parents complained that the measure went too far. Instead, councilors voted to establish a code of conduct for the mall as part of a compromise worked out between business leaders, the Greater Downtown Council and local youth. The code, which is posted in the shopping center, is supposed to be a reminder to patrons to behave appropriately.
However, some business owners say the code has had little if any effect.
"Nick appears to be a casualty of our inability to get something done," said David Ross, president of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce. "This is a local owner, a strong community leader saying ‘enough.’ What does this mean for someone from the outside who’s looking to establish a business there?"
Patronas says the City Council needs to give police the tools to keep order downtown.
"I just think the downtown in the last year has gone right to pot," he said.
Police records show there were only two calls to Burger King for "kid trouble" between January and mid-March. But Patronas indicated the problems go much further. The restaurant’s managers have been threatened by youth. And Patronas says he has seen drug deals and purse snatchings taking place in the 200 block.
That combined with marginal sales and the proximity of the chain’s other Duluth restaurants prompted the decision to close downtown. Patronas owns six Burger Kings in the Twin Ports and will open another on 27th Avenue West June 15.
Patronas owns the building at 220 W. Superior St. and is searching for a new tenant. He isn’t ruling out the possibility of returning to downtown if the situation improves.
Many business owners on the block say things are getting better, thanks in part to community police officer Paul Stein. Stein patrols the block and has been credited with helping keep youth under control.
The Holiday Center has stepped up its own security efforts with positive results, Perella said.
"We’re just going to move forward on our own and solve our own problems in our own fashion," she said. Pioneer National Bank recently opened a new branch at the center, plugging one of the vacancies on the skywalk level.
Keith Thieschafer, who owns the Holiday Center McDonald’s, said he, too, has noticed an improvement. Kids still cause problems occasionally, but incidents are not as severe as in years past. However, Thieschafer was noncommittal when asked if he would renew the restaurant’s lease at the Holiday Center when it expires in September.
"When the lease expires, we’re going to have to evaluate our situation," he said.