Power Plant Live banned College Night three months ago, but two nearby bars are still promoting the drinking and dance parties, which continue to draw hundreds of young people to downtown Baltimore on Thursday nights.
In mid-March, Power Plant Live officials dropped College Night after the city liquor board found credible evidence of underage drinking at two of the venue's bars. But the "18 to Party, 21 to Drink" festivities continue at two nearby clubs that are not part of Power Plant Live - Baja Beach Club, at 55 Market Place, and Iguana Cantina, at 124 Market Place.
Police records show that in recent months more than 20 youths have been cited for underage drinking, fighting and drug use in the Market Place area. A parking garage in the same building as Iguana Cantina has been used by youths who sit in cars and drink, police said.
City bars can admit adults younger than 21 as long as they are not served alcohol. Continued reports of underage drinking in the Market Place vicinity have prompted the city liquor board chairman to call for a change in the law. He wants legislation, already in place in some Maryland counties, making it illegal for anyone under 21 to be admitted to a city bar.
"I definitely would like to see College Nights ended altogether," board Chairman Mark S. Fosler said. "We are going to keep pushing in that direction."
Fosler is working with the Underage Drinking Coalition - a group of police, public health officials, college and university administrators, and liquor inspectors - to craft legislation that could be introduced during the 2007 General Assembly session.
Iguana Cantina's Web site states: "Now and forever, College Night remains!" Club owner Tim Bennett said he had to put the statement on his Web site because after College Night ended at Power Plant Live, young people thought such parties had been banned citywide. Bennett's club is located about two blocks from Power Plant Live and draws from the same college-age patron base.
Bennett said he decided to continue with College Night because his staff does a better job of screening underage drinkers than the staffers at the two Power Plant Live bars cited for underage drinking.
"I shouldn't be penalized because they didn't know how to run their bars," Bennett said.
The manager of Baja Beach Club did not return telephone calls to explain why it has continued the drinking and dance parties.
Power Plant Live, at 34 Market Place, is the brainchild of David S. Cordish, a Baltimore developer and head of the Cordish Co. His son, Reed Cordish, helps manage the entertainment venue.
Power Plant Live has a type of liquor license called an "arena license" that covers multiple bars and clubs at the venue. On March 2, the city liquor board levied a $800 fine after city police reported incidents of underage drinking at the two Power Plant Live clubs. A short time later, Power Plant Live officials canceled the event.
Reed Cordish, who is a vice president with the Cordish Co., voiced support for a law that would bar adults under 21 from city drinking establishments. He said Power Plant Live successfully imposed the ban and that the venue "remains incredibly successful and popular."
In February, The Sun reported on the drunken revelry that took place after busloads of young people arrived for College Night at Power Plant Live. School buses continue to ferry partygoers to and from the clubs where College Night continues, and that worries some law enforcement officials.
Baltimore County police, who often monitor bus drop-off points near Towson University, say they continue to cite youths for driving under the influence after returning from College Nights.
Bennett, the owner of Iguana Cantina, said he was aware of the problems in the parking garage, which is located directly above his club. He said he employs about 10 off-duty police officers every Thursday night to keep tabs on the crowd and that those same officers often patrol the parking garage after the club closes to make sure no one drives home drunk. Youths who appear to be drunk or high on drugs are denied entrance to the club, he added.
The parking garage, at the corner of Market Place and Lombard Street, is owned by Parkway Corp. of Philadelphia. Telephone calls to Parkway officials seeking comment on the late-night troubles inside the garage were not returned.
Meanwhile, the city liquor board is investigating Iguana Cantina and Bar Baltimore, a former Power Plant Live tenant that closed in March, for allegedly serving alcohol to people under 21. Both bars have been previously fined for selling alcohol to underage youths. Iguana Cantina owners have appealed past fines in court, but the disputes have yet to be settled.
Bennett said he only recently found out that the liquor board was again investigating his club, this time for allegedly serving alcohol to a 20-year-old Westminster man. According to liquor board files, the man was arrested by a state trooper for driving while intoxicated about 2 a.m. Jan. 6. The man told the trooper that he had been drinking at Iguana Cantina.
Bennett said the young man might have been lying about where he was served alcohol. He said that if the liquor board fines him again, he will file another appeal in court.
"I don't believe that he got served any alcohol down here," Bennett said. "But we will have to battle that out in front of the liquor board."