JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It's a mix of youth and experience sitting at a table munching on French fries and watching flat screen televisions. Natural light beams in through the glass windows hitting the group as they sip cold beer. It's a traditional picture-perfect bar.
This is the University of North Florida's Boathouse, located inside the UNF student union. The Boathouse, in some form or another was a part of UNF culture for nearly four decades until it closed in the summer of 2008. It reopened last summer as part of the student union.
But having a bar on campus, while not uncommon, might be cause for concern for some. While there haven't been any serious incidents at the Boathouse, according to campus police, UNF still faces problems related to students' alcohol consumption. The campus venture combines students and alcohol - historically an explosive mix.
Police Chief John Dean said his officers have responded to disturbances at the Boathouse, but nothing serious enough for him to be involved. The UNF police department already has a protocol if students of drinking age are discovered under the influence of alcohol or drugs, sending them to rehabilitation and detox centers.
UNF police arrested five people in 2009 for disorderly intoxication, according its records. Twelve people were arrested in 2008 for liquor law violations on buildings or property of the campus, police said.
This number, said Dean, does not take into account students that may have been arrested for other charges or intoxicated students who were placed in River Point, a detoxification center, or other similar locations.
Bar employee Brittany Edwards recently said a student who was waiting for the bar to open when she arrived for work once told her that he enjoys drinking because "...it is like cereal. It's made of wheat and water. Cereal is made of out wheat and grain so it's almost the same."
Students come to the Boathouse regularly to meet up with friends, or just to pass the time before class like Josh Baxely and his friend Zach Strella to help relieve stress before exams.
"You need to be relaxed before a test. You don't need to be uptight," said Baxely, "You come here and have a few beers before a test or any class, and just don't worry about it. When you worry about it, is when you screw up and second guess and do bad."
Dropping by before class makes it "more bearable...I like to come to the Boathouse just before class for some food and some beer," Baxely said.
The bar's busiest time is between 1 p.m. and 1:30, said bartender Jennifer Marshburn. Customers usually have about five beers at the most, she said; they like the $3 price, she said.
But Vince Smyth, director of UNF Auxiliary Services, said booze is merely a part of the Boathouse. "Our sales of alcohol are not really why people come to the Boathouse. It is the secondary things. You get a beer because you're having wings and watching the football game. You're not coming here to put down three or four beers," he said.
It might be only part of the experience, but without a doubt, it's the alcohol sales that help the Boathouse turn a profit. Its overall gross revenue, which includes beer and food sales, between July 1 and Dec. 31 was $327,311.
Smyth is responsible for making sure Chartwells, the contracted operator of the Boathouse, follows the rules; the alcohol license belongs to Chartwells which is responsible for following the state's guidelines for alcohol sales.
The Boathouse did suspend sales for one night in October, when rapper Ludacris came to the university for a concert - a recommendation from the university police department, but a decision ultimately made by Smyth. He now says if he was presented with the same opportunity again he isn't sure he would make the same decision to not sell alcohol.
If there is an incident involving a student, the University of North
Florida police department is the first to respond, and Auxiliary Services also would be very quick to take corrective measures, said Smyth.
Recently, Joel McMains was at the bar on his 21st birthday, enjoying a celebratory drink before class.
"Drinking before class isn't good," said McMains, "but it's in the context of who is drinking. It could be someone who is abusive or someone who just wants to grab a beer. It would screw me up before a test. Alcohol is a drug. Would you do drugs before a test?"
First Coast News