CITY HALL — A City Council committee moved Thursday to loosen what were called "antiquated" restrictions on video arcades that were designed to thwart juvenile delinquents.
The measure, sponsored by Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), would remove the requirement that arcades be either part of a five-acre shopping center, or have a special-use permit in connection with being part of a tavern, both of which were intended to limit their expansion in the past.
"This is really to update an antiquated part of the code," said Mell.
Patricia Scudiero, zoning administrator for the Department of Planning and Development, said it updated "really a 1980s ordinance" meant to limit arcades in an era when it was believed they attracted juvenile delinquents.
"Gaming is huge," Scudiero said, adding that present-day arcades don't attract the same teen clientele as arcades did 30 years ago, but instead offer computer systems where teens and adults can compete in games with others around the world.
"We think it's a good ordinance," Scudiero said. "We think this is obviously the future."
Mell said it specifically would benefit the Ignite Gaming Lounge, 3341 N. Elston Ave. in Avondale, which the city was trying to force to obtain a liquor license, while the family-friendly arcade only wanted to offer food, soft drinks and juices to gamers.
"They don't want it," Mell said. "They don't want to have to serve alcohol. This is just saying they don't have to."
Ignite owner Flavius Maximus said its clientele was about 70 percent adult, over 21, so adding a liquor license and tavern license "would work as well, but it's not necessary" and "it definitely shouldn't be mandatory."
Ald. Danny Solis (25th), chairman of the Zoning Committee considering the ordinance, said he could testify to how game arcades were changing thanks to his experiences with his own children.
"This is a great idea," Solis said. "I know how popular this kind of gaming is.
"This is a worldwide phenomenon," he added, predicting that this "healthy and safe kind of gaming" would soon expand to other sites due to "a bigger demand."
Maximus added that rules for old arcades didn't really apply to what went on at Ignite. "A lot of the content is very intricate, not really geared toward children," he said. Even so, the business welcomes them and wouldn't want to mix in alcohol.
"It's a good business," Mell insisted. "The neighbors really like them there. It provides a nice, safe place for kids to go."
The measure was approved without opposition and will head to the full City Council for passage next month.
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