Off Beat

An Undercover Cop Walks into a Bar...

Last April an undercover St. Paul police officer walked into Lucy's, a Frogtown watering hole, and drank a beer. He ordered a second brew, took a few sips, and carried it out the door--a violation of city ordinances.

P. Areanna Coale, Lucy's proprietor, wasn't notified of the infraction until four months later. By then Lucy's was embroiled in a swirl of accusations. Neighborhood residents charged that the bar (formerly the legendary Blues Saloon) had become a haven for drugs, gangs, and crime (see "Saloon Blues," September 12, 2001). Lucy's is primarily a gay bar, but on weekend nights it had begun featuring hip-hop music and attracting a younger, straighter, more volatile crowd. In September a petition signed by more than 100 citizens was delivered to the city attorney's office, requesting that the bar be permanently shuttered.

St. Paul officials didn't act on that request, but last week the city council held a hearing on Lucy's wandering-beer infraction. Coale, the owner, protested that it was unfair of the city to send officers into bars to try to smuggle liquor out. "If this is the standard, then restaurants and bars will not be able to trust government," she argued. Unmoved, the council imposed a $1,000 fine.

Coale says the situation at the bar has improved since last summer, and that the hip-hop nights have been eliminated. "Things are going real, real well and I expect them to continue," she says. "I have the clientele I want. They are the least violent; they are the least rude; they cause the least problems."

Tait Danielson, who helps run the District 7 Planning Council, a nonprofit group that monitors crime in the neighborhood, confirms that things have quieted down in recent months, but he worries that it's only a cold-weather lull. "We're probably going to face the same thing in the summer," he predicts.

Danielson believes Lucy's needs to improve its security, and that the bar should install video cameras--steps that St. Paul police agree act as deterrents to mayhem. Coale says she has at least one security guard on duty every night. But when it comes to videotaping her customers, Coale, who also works as a criminal defense attorney, draws the line. "I have a gay bar," she notes. "I don't necessarily feel that my customers are gonna feel comfortable having me videotape their activities inside my bar." --By Paul Demko


Step Right Up

An eight-acre "Pan Asian Urban Village," planned for the southeast corner of University Avenue and Dale Street in St. Paul, is slated to include office and retail space, housing for senior citizens, and a new home for the Asian Pacific Community Center. Some members of the black community have argued that the project, which will supplant the Unidale Mall and its low-income shopping emporiums, ignores their needs and the history of the neighborhood as a hub of African-American life. "If we are to have a showplace, why not magnify our diversity with a Pan American development?" Robert McClain, a spokesman for the African American Leadership Council, asked in October at a hearing before the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

In response to such criticism, the Hmong Development Corporation, which is heading up the project, offered to bring African-American investors aboard. But unfortunately, no one has come forward. "The African-American community had informed [city council member] Jerry Blakey that they wanted to invest in this, and they pressed him and us to open the door for them to come and invest," says Chris Thao, head of the Hmong Development Corporation. "But those have been empty words, and we have been waiting and waiting and trying to get to the bottom of that. I guess that doesn't bother us now, knowing that they're not coming forward."

Neither McClain nor Nathaniel Khaliq, president of the St. Paul chapter of the NAACP, returned calls seeking comment about the project. Council member Blakey, whose ward includes the Unidale site, says he attempted to identify black investors. "I did have feelers go out to leaders in the African-American community and as far as I know no one has really stepped up," he laments.

Thao says the development will move forward as planned. The next step in the process of winning city approval for the project: an appearance before the Housing and Redevelopment Authority in March. --By Paul Demko

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