As the Chattanooga City Council continues to debate the implications of a new ordinance requiring anyone under the age of 18 to be accompanied by an adult at Coolidge Park, park patrons and business owners on the North Shore are weighing the idea themselves.
“I’m concerned that [the ordinance] won’t do any good,” said David Smotherman, president of Northshore Merchants Collective and owner of Winder Binder gallery and bookstore. “The vast majority of the problems happen outside the park,” he said. “The vast majority of these kids didn’t show up to start trouble.”
Sean Daniels, visiting the park with family on Sunday, said he thinks the restriction would make the park safer.
“I personally think it would be a plus,” Daniels said. “Unfortunately, I think it’s needed.”
Council members passed the ordinance on first reading 8-1 on Tuesday. But some council members questioned if the rule should apply only to Coolidge Park, where gunshots were heard but no one was injured Saturday night as some 300 young people gathered in a flash mob.
A year ago, a similar incident at the park left five people wounded.
Angelo Burris, 15, said he comes down to Coolidge with classmates from the Center for Creative Arts —a little over a mile from the park — after school.
“Sometimes we come down here and hang out. But we don’t do all that stuff,” said Burris, referring to the violence that has broken out.
He said the city proposal could be helpful but that it should only be enforced at certain times, like after dusk.
Jane Kemmerer, owner of River City Apparel on Frazier Avenue, said she sometimes worries about problems with minors but doesn’t think the ordinance will be effective.
“I just don’t think it’s possible to enforce it,” she said.
Kemmerer also is concerned about the ordinance’s impact on her business. Young people make up her customer base, she said.
Smotherman said police have been doing a good job patrolling the area, but Kemmerer said she wishes she saw more police.
Eric Miralles, who visited the park with friends on Sunday, said he doesn’t think banning young people would solve any problems.
“They should just bump up security,” Miralles said. “You keep banning them from places, they’re just going to find other places to gather.”
He said he wondered where young people could hang out safely, if not at a public park.
“I know when I was younger, my friends and I used to come down here to hang out,” said Miralles, 23. “I’d hate to see kids lose that. It’s a good place for them to come.”
Staff writer Carey O’Neil contributed to this report.