Unofficial St. Patrick's Day 2020

Unofficial St. Patrick's Day revelers ham it up for the camera as they wait to cross Green Street at First Street on March 6, 2020, in Campustown.

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CHAMPAIGN — This would typically be the week the mayors of Champaign and Urbana issue emergency orders restricting liquor sales for Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day.

But this year, while local officials are preparing for the unsanctioned drinking event, it’s unclear if it will even be happening given the pandemic and diminishing interest in recent years.

Campustown bar owner Scott Cochrane, who founded the event 25 years ago and trademarked the name, said, “Unofficial is dead.”

“I created it, and it’s dead,” he said. “It was done last year.”

Last year, the University of Illinois Police Department issued a dozen citations, down from more than 350 in 2011.

“The mayor and the university want it dead, so it’s dead,” said Cochrane, who added that he no longer promotes Unofficial at his bars.

UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said she wasn’t aware of any set date for an event this year.

“We assume it could happen this year and are planning accordingly,” she said.

The UI typically sends a letter to parents and a mass email discouraging participation in the event, and local police monitor campus for unsafe behavior.

Former Kam’s owner Eric Meyer said Unofficial would typically be on the first Friday in March, but he said the Campustown bar owners he’s talked with are more concerned about staying in business.

“At this point, I haven’t heard anyone talk about it,” he said. “Most people are worried about just trying to conduct business in the best manner possible and are happy just to be open.”

And Meyer said that last year, “for all practical purposes, it didn’t happen. It became just another bar day.”

“It was probably 10 to 15 percent of where it was,” he said. “It will probably be something that a couple years from now, people might not even think about it anymore. We’ll see.”

Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen and Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin said they met Friday with UI officials to begin planning for Unofficial.

“We’re planning as we always do. I think the pandemic puts an additional urgency on safety,” Feinen said. “I can’t think of anything more dangerous right now.”

Over the summer, local officials worked with the UI and Campustown bar owners to make Greek Reunion a non-event.

“I want to give credit to our bar owners. They helped with that,” Feinen said. “I have not reached out to them on Unofficial yet, but certainly if we start hearing that it’s a likely possibility, we’ll be talking with them to strategize about how to prevent it from happening. I’m hoping it just goes away.”

Marlin said she hopes the pandemic helps discourage the event from happening.

“The general feeling was that rather than just respond to the possibility of Unofficial, the message needs to be: We’re still in a pandemic, and we will be in a pandemic a month from now,” she said.

Reporter

Ben Zigterman is a reporter covering business at The News-Gazette. His email is bzigterman@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@bzigterman).

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