Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Water Tower, Dave & Buster's have already signed a lease, audience told at fiery meeting: "It's become thugland!"


The PowerPoint projector worked. So, that was nice.

Beyond that, representatives of Dave & Buster’s (D&B) and Water Tower Place didn’t catch any breaks Tuesday evening as they presented the restaurant and gaming company’s plan to move into a 42,000-square-foot space at the iconic Michigan Avenue shopping mall.

“It is an idea,” Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd) told about fifty audience members at the Lake Shore Fieldhouse. “That’s all this is. It is an idea. They have not applied for anything.”

But, more than an hour later, during a lengthy grilling by audience members, D&B attorney Harlan Powell revealed that moving the company’s location from 1030 North Clark Street to Water Tower is more than an idea. The company has already signed a lease to take over half of the urban mall’s fourth floor.

The proposal will require tenants, including Adidas, to relocate or vacate their 4th-floor space. | Guenther Lutz

The revelation quickly brought Hopkins back to the front of the room. Powell was free to reveal the executed agreement, Hopkins said, but the existence of a lease “will not grease the skids” of the city licensing process which D&B expects will include a new liquor license for the new location at 835 North Michigan Avenue.

During an opening presentation, company representatives said their operating plan is to serve food, liquor, and arcade gaming from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday — all well past the mall’s current closing time.

The arcade-centered restaurant requires customers under the age of 18 to be accompanied by an adult over the age of 25, with up to six youths allowed per "guardian," the company said.

D&B’s after-hours customers would use an express elevator to transport them from the mall’s rear entrance to the fourth floor, Water Tower manager Mitch Feldman said. “People are going to leave Water Tower Place in a safe and orderly fashion.”

But the presentation team hit a brick wall with an early effort to draw parallels with Harry Caray’s, which uses a late-night elevator to operate its restaurant with liquor service in the mall as late as 9 p.m.

“Do not bring Harry Caray’s into this debate,” a representative of Caray’s interjected from the audience. “Do not invite me into this. You won’t like it.”

For nearly 45-minutes, Powell and D&B reps were verbally assailed by members of the standing-room-only crowd.

“Your Clark Street location is a disaster,” said the first audience member chosen to speak. She had recently passed by the company’s location of the past 22-years to see a woman bent over outside “vomiting as someone held her hair back.”

"My children in their 20’s and 30s,” went to the Clark Street location, the audience member said. “They say there is gang activity and they don’t feel safe.”

Powell countered that the company has a clean track record. He has never had to appear in court or before city regulators on behalf of D&B, he said.

Another inquiry from the audience revealed that the sprawling Water Tower footprint will have a maximum occupancy of 1,500 people and an expected average tab of $27 per person, discoveries that left some in the audience shaking their heads.

"$27? That's nothing on Michigan Avenue."

“How is this consistent with the image [of Water Tower Place]? Or is this an attempt to downgrade?” another spectator asked to light applause.

“1000 to 1,500 military-age males spilling on the streets. It has become thugland!”

“I’m not concerned about security in your mall. I’m concerned about people on my corner at 2 a.m. after drinking—drunk and semi-drunk.”

Asked for the companies’ plan for security outside the mall, Powell stated: “we are not in a position to be law enforcement.” But that was not the answer many in the audience were looking for.

“That’s a failure on your part,” said one. “Water Tower has been the focal point for a lot of unrest,” said another.

“We make the [Museum of Contemporary Art] stop playing music at 9 p.m.” yet the proposal is for D&B to operate until 2 a.m.?

Mall rep Feldman interjected that there are things that can be done outside the mall, including calling Ubers for people who need them. “We will have a plan to ensure people leave in an orderly fashion.”

Powell then walked back his statement that the company was “not in a position to be law enforcement," saying that he may have been thinking more about the legal aspects of off-property efforts.

Later, a resident wondered if there would be more concepts like D&B moving into the mall space that has traditionally been filled with retailers. “Is this the first of many Dave & Buster’s for Water Tower Place?”

The response—that the mall is looking to diversify its tenant portfolio with “vibrancy and relevancy” in changing times—failed to reassure the revved-up audience members.

Hopkins, the alderman, closed the meeting with a promise to have the local police commander create a “public safety impact analysis” of the D&B proposal. There will be much more to come, he said, again promising that the city process will not be made easier or circumvented because the Water Tower lease has already been signed.

Barring complications, D&B hopes to open its Water Tower location in late 2020.
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