SIOUX CITY | Crowds of people having a good time on Historic Fourth Street is just what city leaders envisioned when they set about revitalizing what had been one of Sioux City's seediest neighborhoods in the early 1990s.
Since then, many of the efforts have been a success. The two-block section is home to numerous bars and restaurants, which are often packed on weekends, generating money and jobs.
It's also been home to a series of high-profile crimes. Three shootings and a fatal fight have been reported in the 1200 block of Historic Fourth Street since 2010.
Now, business owners and local officials are trying to strike a balance between catering to patrons of the street's dining and drinking establishments and ensuring revelry doesn't escalate into violence.
"Obviously we've got a lot of people and obviously we've got a lot of alcohol," said Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott. "It deserves a little bit more scrutiny than we've given it."
Police vowed to increase patrols after an underage Briar Cliff University foreign exchange student was shot last month inside Mac Behrs, at 1201 Fourth St. The student, Natacha Butera, 20, of Rwanda, was wounded about 1:10 a.m. Nov. 18 while standing at the bar. The accused shooter, Soloman Harris, was aiming for a man he'd had a fight with earlier, police said.
It was the latest in a series of incidents in and around Historic Fourth and Iowa streets.
On July 15, Nathaniel Deal, 33, was shot and wounded in an alley in the 1200 block of Historic Fourth Street.
Earlier, Brian Henderson, 19, was shot in the chest in an ally behind Mac Behrs, on Nov. 20, 2011. He recovered.
On Oct. 30, 2010, Joseph MacDonald, 28, died after being punched in the head during a fight in front of Teasers Gentlemen's Club, 1127 Fourth St.
The sheer numbers of people who gather at Fourth and Iowa streets likely contribute to the problems at that location, said Sioux City police Lt. Mark Kirkpatrick.
The intersection is at the east end of Historic Fourth, a crossroads between parking areas on Fourth and late-night hangout Firehouse Bar one block north, on Fifth Street. The largest concentration of bars is at the west end of Historic Fourth.
"Typically there's not a lot of parking along the west side and people park toward the east end, so that becomes a funnel point for larger groups of people," Kirkpatrick said.
Scott, a member of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said he wants police and business owners to crack down on troublemakers.
"The Police Department's been encouraged to increase their patrols and work with bar owners to get a handle on what's going on," he said.
Before its reincarnation in 1995 as Historic Fourth Street, the two-block stretch of Fourth between Virginia and Iowa streets was well-known for crime.
The seedier side of the street, called "Lower Fourth," was still in evidence in the early 1990s, when the Sioux City Convention Center was built and city boosters began to dream of revitalizing the street.
"It was a menagerie of bars and old little hotels, and there was a sizable prevalence of prostitution and drinking establishments that were less than reputable, shall we say," said said Roger Caudron, a former director of the city Community Development Department.
To increase tax revenues and encourage the transformation, the city built new streets, replaced aging infrastructure and added decorative lighting and park benches. Century-old commercial buildings were reborn, and the section was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The section of downtown bloomed into a center of nightlife. But along with the growth in alcohol-related establishments came problems, such as fights, arguments and other disturbances.
Kirkpatrick said police increased patrols several years ago. A dozen police officers now patrol Historic Fourth on any given night, he said.
"When the bars close at 2 o'clock, all the available officers in and around that area make their presence known down there," Kirkpatrick said.
Ray Hoffman, owner of Luciano's Italian Restaurant, at 1019 Fourth St., said police are doing a good job of patrolling Historic Fourth, but that the city needs to get tough with business owners who violate liquor laws.
"We just need to enforce the laws," Hoffman said. "If they break the laws, make sure they pay their dues. That's it. It'll fix itself."
Hoffman didn't single out any establishments, but said he and other owners have a responsibility to control what happens on their premises. For one thing, he said, they need to make sure they don't serve alcohol to minors.
"It's my responsibility to make sure there are no problems in my restaurant," said Hoffman, who opened Luciano's in 1996. "That my clients -- my customers -- are safe."
Business owners haven't approached Downtown Partners a nonprofit group that promotes development in downtown Sioux City, about the recent incidents, said Ragen Cote, the agency's executive director.
She said the issue is one Downtown Partners' board of directors hasn't addressed but may look into.
The most recent violence has spurred changes at Mac Behrs. Attendance plummeted so badly in the wake of Butera's shooting that the bar switched from playing hip-hop to country music in an effort to draw a new crowd.
Security staff posted at Mac Behr front door will continue to check identification, but now, patrons who are unfamiliar to the staff will be patted down and checked with a metal detector, said Mac Dolan, one of Mac Behrs owners.
If necessary, he said, they'll be required to stand in line single-file so no one slips through security during a rush.
Scott said he wants police to continue their sting operations to check for underage drinkers and said city officials will continue to monitor Historic Fourth Street to make sure the situation doesn't escalate.
"We've got way too much positive going down in that area," he said. "And we can't allow the negatives to take over."