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Alderman urges Water Tower Place to expand ‘parental guidance required’ policy

The Water Tower Place in Chicago on August 14, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Water Tower Place. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

The new “parental guidance required” policy at Water Tower Place has been so smoothly implemented and so successful in eliminating “disruptive behavior,” it should be expanded to seven-days-a-week during summer months, the local alderman said Monday.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said the proposed summer expansion would go a long way toward discouraging what has become a perennial problem when school is out: marauding groups of young people harassing, intimidating, robbing and attacking Michigan Avenue shoppers. The new policy took effect Jan. 4.

“During the summer, there have been times we’ve had incidents on weekdays. And it appears to be random. It isn’t Tuesday versus Thursday. It’s just whenever it happens during the summer months when school is out. Some of the incidents were minor fights, scuffling and things of that nature that didn’t result in serious injuries,” Hopkins said.

“Nevertheless, if it works on a Friday and a Saturday, it can work on a Monday and a Tuesday. And during the summer months when school’s out, that’s more likely to … happen at any point during the week. To have the policy cover Friday and Saturday year-round, but then seven days a week during the summer months when school’s out makes sense to me. Since it’s working so well two days a week, they should consider expanding it to seven days a week. I think that is under consideration.”

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Mitch Feldman, senior general manager of Water Tower Place, could not be reached for comment on the alderman’s suggestion.

John Chikow, president and CEO of the Magnificent Mile Association, had no immediate comment.

Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, urged Water Tower management to take a go-slow approach to any summer expansion.

“Our concern around this policy continues to be that it be enforced in an equal, non-discriminatory way for all visitors to the facility,” Yohnka wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Expanding the hours or times when the curfew is in force does not allay those concerns. While we recognize the capacity of a private business to enforce rules in their facility, those rules must be fair and not discriminate against anyone.”

This month, Chicago’s original vertical mall on the showcase Michigan Avenue shopping strip joined the ranks of shopping malls around the country that have closed their doors to unaccompanied minors, particularly on weekends.

To gain entry to Water Tower Place, patrons must either be over the age of 17 with an ID to prove it or accompanied by a “parent or supervising adult who is at least 21 years old,” the policy states.

With multiple entrances, a theater and underground parking lot, the parental guidance policy could be somewhat difficult to enforce.

But Water Tower management has seamlessly worked out the logistics, Hopkins said.

Announcements are be made inside the mall, starting at 3 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. That gives young shoppers not accompanied by adults time to finish eating and shopping and get out before the curfew begins.

After 4 p.m., trained public safety officers are stationed at all Water Tower Place entrances to check IDs of anyone who appears to be “17 years old or younger” and distribute “optional” wristbands to those who present valid IDs.

Security guards inside the mall also card those who appear to be underage and are not wearing wristbands.

Valid IDs include: a state issued driver’s license or ID card, a military ID, a school ID card, or a passport. The identification must be tamper-proof and include a photograph and date of birth.

“It seems to be working very well. Retailers have reported favorable response. They appreciate the atmosphere in the mall itself. It seems much more relaxed. Security staff at the doors have been trained to explain the policy in a courteous manner,” Hopkins said.

“For the most part, youths being stopped are understanding of the policy. … There have been no incidents. As word gets out, there’ll be fewer incidents of inconvenience where someone who didn’t know about the policy is told that they have to come back with a guardian. … The word is spreading quickly and we think it’s working quite well.”