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Meeting focuses on safer nightlife

READ MORE: Meeting focuses on safer nightlife

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Between the streaker and the alleged drunk driver who hit pedestrians at Wrightsville Beach to the violence at clubs in Downtown Wilmington, the bar scene in New Hanover County has created a lot of problems lately. Leaders from around the state and country met in Wilmington today at the Sociable City Forum to try to make their cities safer.

"You can't eliminate risk, but what you can do is manage and mitigate the amount of risk," said Jim Peters, President of the Responsible Hospitality Institute. He says one way to do that is to control underage drinking. He suggests fixing the problem by creating activities targeted at 18 to 20 year olds, like making venues more live music oriented.

"To allow music as being the commodity that people are buying instead of drinks," Peters said. "So the more you can create a culture with music, which appeals to all age groups, particularly the young adults, the more you can create the activities where drinking doesn't have to be the focus."

Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous suggested staggering times when bars close.

"Ask them to stay open a little longer. Not serve alcohol, but stay open to keep their patrons in so we don't have 10 or 11,000 people all coming out to the street at once," Evangelous said. "Maybe that's an option. It'll also help the cab situation."

Wilmington Downtown Inc. Executive Director John Hinnant is working with Peters to get the ball rolling and turn these ideas into solutions. Hinnant will also likely take on the newly-created role of nightlife liaison communicating between the nightlife operators and the government entities, police and planning. He also wants to look at making it tougher for applicants to get an ABC permit.

"One proposal we're talking about doing is requiring an interview allowing the applicant for an ABC permit to come in and state their case why they should be issued a permit," Hinnant said. Wilmington Downtown Inc. plans to present that proposal to City Council in August.

Peters says Wilmington is on the right track to making the bar scene safer. He says rebuilding Front Street, widening the sidewalks and putting more street lights downtown will help.

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