Monday, April 29, 2002

Burnet Ave. bar in liquor license fight

Bar owners face opposition on license renewal

By Randy Tucker,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Burnet Avenue business district in Avondale has been plagued by guns, drugs and violence since the riots of 1967 and 1968.

        Shootings, assaults and other violent crimes are so commonthat neighbors and area businesses have raised more than $12,000 over the past three years to pay for extra policing.

    Statistics — Cincinnati neighborhood crime statistics for Avondale in 2001:
   Total calls for service: 12,117
   Violent crimes: 1,344
   Murder: 4
   Rape: 26
   Robbery: 91
   Aggravated assault: 91
   Burglary: 244
   Larceny: 612
   Auto theft: 278
   Source: Cincinnati Police Department
        The owners of Uncle Milt's bar and restaurant, a neighborhood landmark since 1981, contributed $1,000.

        But now Uncle Milt's owners are facing direct opposition from the same community groups and businesses they've been working with to curb crime.

        “With all due respect to the very fine people who run Uncle Milt's, we do not feel that they are in control nor able to control the behavior problems of the individuals that frequent the bar,” Tom Jones, president of the Avondale Public Safety Task Force, said recently.

        Mr. Jones and representatives of the Ronald McDonald House across from Uncle Milt's on Burnet complain that the bar is a hub for criminal activity and should be shut down, regardless of the good intentions of its owners.

        They recently asked City Council's Neighborhood and Public Works committee to take steps in that direction by objecting to the renewal of Uncle Milt's liquor license.

        Two weeks ago, the Council committee passed such a resolution, which will be submitted to the Ohio Liquor Control Commission in Columbus.

        The commission will make the final decision.

        The process could take several months, even longer if Uncle Milt's appeals the commission's decision.
Lunch expansion plans

        Deanna Morgan, who inherited Uncle Milt's after her father, Milton Howard, died last year, said she feels betrayed by the residents and corporate neighbors who have lined up against her.

        Ms. Morgan said they are well aware of her intentions to expand Uncle Milt's hours to cater to the lunchtime crowd from nearby Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and Ronald McDonald House, which houses families of hospitalized children.

        The bar owner said she wants to be part of the revitalization of the neighborhood, and that to blame her establishment for the neighborhood's problems is unfair.

        Jennifer Goodin, executive director of Ronald McDonald House, said it's “unfortunate that it had to come to this.” But she believes Uncle Milt's has to go to ensure the safety of residents and workers in the area.

        “We've had residents drop to the floor on the Burnet side of the building because they heard gunfire and thought it would come through the window,” Ms. Goodin said. “We're talking about parents that are already stressed out.”

        According to the Cincinnati Police Department, patrol officers last year responded to 857 calls for assistance along the corridor stretching from the 3200 block to the 3500 block of Burnet, which includes Uncle Milt's.

        That number represents about two-thirds of the 1,261 total calls for service within a three-mile radius of the Burnet Avenue business district, police said.

Area needs overhaul

        “We have a real opposition to Uncle Milt's,” said District 4 Capt. David Ratliff, who sent an officer to Uncle Milt's liquor license hearing to object to the renewal.

        Capt. Ratliff said police object to only one or two license renewals a year, an indication of how serious the crime problem is near the establishment.

        But crime is a problem throughout the business district littered with empty storefronts that have become hot spots for drug trafficking, prostitution and other crimes, said Jim King, director of the Avondale Redevelopment Corp.

        “Uncle Milt's isn't the only problem over there, so to pick on them is unfair,” Mr. King said. “There needs to be a major renovation of Burnet Avenue, but it has to happen all at one time. To yank her (Ms. Morgan's) license now will not solve the problem. It'll just mean more vacant buildings over there.”

        Ms. Morgan's son, Mike Morgan, who helps manage the business, said he believes city officials want to shut Uncle Milt's down to make way for development and are using the neighborhood's inherent crime problems as leverage.

        “They just don't see us as part of their future,” Mr. Morgan said.

        But property records show that the City of Cincinnati doesn't own any buildings in the business district.

        And Community Development Director Peg Moertl said the city has no plans to purchase property there.

        “There is absolutely no intention on our part to buy Uncle Milt's property,” Ms. Moertl said. “We would love to see a revival in that area ... but we have absolutely no interest in stealing away that property from a family that has owned it for a long time.”


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