The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, Steve Lackmeyer column
May 23, 2012 (Menafn - The Oklahoman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --As the debate rages over the fate of Thunder Alley, Bricktown merchants and property owners say they hope that if it is continued that changes will be implemented.
In what was the worst violence in the history of the downtown entertainment district, eight people were shot and a pregnant woman was injured in the minutes after thousands left the Thunder game and outdoor Thunder Alley festivities at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Despite the proximity to Thunder Alley and timing of the shootings, a team spokesman initially suggested the violence and festival might be unrelated.
"It did not happen at the arena, at the game, at Thunder Alley," Thunder spokesman Dan Mahoney said in an initial response to the shootings. "We'll continue to work with law enforcement to provide a safe environment."
That comment left some in Bricktown saying they believe the shootings were tied to the large crowds that gathered at the arena.
Jeannette Smith, director of the Bricktown Association, said her district had an ample presence of police and private security.
"I don't think it's a Bricktown incident at all," Smith said. "You have 30,000 people in one area and everyone was leaving at once from a Thunder game. And then you have one hotheaded person."
Smith said her discussions have been limited to talks with police, but she suggested crowd limits be used with future Thunder Alley events.
Jonathan Pitman, co-owner of the Power Alley Parking Garage in Bricktown and part of a development group that built the Hampton Inn and is preparing to build a second Bricktown hotel, was among those who heard the gunfire as he left Monday night's game.
Pitman said he had just turned the corner at Mickey Mantle Drive and Reno Avenue when he heard the gunshots. He estimates he was about 15 yards away from the incident when the shots were fired.
Pitman said the crowd had "a bad vibe" as he left the game, and he asked whether ticketing could be used to maintain control over the festivities.
"A lot of it was fueled by unregulated alcohol," Pitman said. "This needs to be a controlled event. People shouldn't be allowed to walk up with coolers of beers. The vibe was very scary."
Charles Stout, co-owner of the Bricktown Brewery, called the violence "a numbing deal."
"Your initial reaction is 'wow' -- I can't believe that this would happen. I feel more as an Oklahoma Citian that this is what happens in Detroit when they win basketball games."
Both Pitman and Stout said they believe Bricktown can overcome any bad publicity stemming from the violence and the shootings did not leave them afraid.
"Is anyone fearful?" Stout replied. "I don't think so. But will we be even more careful going to cars at night? Yeah. We're already careful. Now we'll just be more so. There were so many people, so many uniformed police officers around. I'm in awe that someone would do something so stupid."
Avis Scaramucci, owner of Nonna's restaurant, also is concerned by the sheer size of the crowds drawn by the Thunder Alley festivities.
"I'm not really sure if we are equipped, at least on such short notice, to deal with such large groups on the streets," Scaramucci said. "No matter where you go, whether it's OU or the Thunder, it's a controlled environment to some extent. But out on the street, I'm not sure if there is a way to control who or what goes into the event or what goes on. It's a potentially volatile group."
Scaramucci said she believes the majority of attendees just want to experience a good time, but she questioned how authorities can guard against a few troublemakers when they are mixed with thousands of people.
Jim Cowan, chairman of the Bricktown Association when violence erupted at a Bricktown festival several years ago, recommended current property owners and merchants review the previous response.
"We basically said we're not going to put up with that," Cowan said. "We worked with police, the city council, we got the curfew implemented, we addressed lighting, we addressed the music being played outside of businesses -- and we had to have a lot of people make compromises."
Smith, meanwhile, indicated she is prepared to treat the shootings as "an isolated incident."
"The incident that occurred following the Thunder game on May 21 is not a reflection on the safety and security of the downtown or Bricktown areas, but rather an isolated event, and just happened to occur in Bricktown as the Thunder game let out and crowds were walking toward the parking area in lower Bricktown," Smith said. "The Bricktown Association takes the safety and security of our visitors very seriously, and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragic incident."
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