With an overhauled ordinance set to go before City Council members next week, Mayor Andy Berke is hoping to crack down on a pattern of violence occurring at event halls across the city.
Berke announced his plans to introduce the ordinance at a press conference on East Main Street Wednesday in front of an event hall known as "Boo Coo's." The event hall was the site of a shooting over the weekend and has played host to multiple deadly shootings this year, according to a Chattanooga Times Free Press report.
"Event halls like the one just behind me have operated in a world without consequences," Berke said. "They're consistently a location for violence. In fact, there was a shooting here this past weekend. We must hold them accountable and hold them to the same standards we expect from everyone else. That's why we're here."
By "them," Berke was referring to building owners, operators and organizers of events occurring at the halls. The mayor's proposal would overhaul the city's existing ordinance for special gathering permits and require organizers to meet requirements to have events approved.
The ordinance also gives the city's sworn officers authority to terminate unauthorized events and includes strict penalties for those in violation.
Berke described the steps as "bold."
"If you organize a party at a city location and you get one violation, your ability to do business anywhere in this city for a special gathering permit is gone," he said. "And if you're a building owner or operator and twice something happens on your premises, no matter whether it was a party you were throwing or someone else, your ability to get a special gathering permit is gone."
Factors that will be assessed in order to determine whether an event is in need of a special gatherings permit will include if it is open after midnight, if money is charged for admission, if alcohol is present, if the event is being attended by 50 people or more and if it is being held at a facility with an occupancy of 50 people or more.
The ordinance doesn't apply to restaurants and bars in the city that have licenses to sell liquor or beer—instead, it seeks to address a gray area for businesses that allow alcohol on the premises but do not facilitate the sale of alcohol. Berke's office said the lack of regulation allowed event hall owners and operators—some of whom do not maintain residencies in Chattanooga—to have "plausible deniability" when violence occurs.
The eight-page ordinance will go before the council next week. Along with requiring all approved event halls to cease operations at 3 a.m., the proposal will also require owners and operators of the facility to report any violence or disturbances to the Chattanooga Police Department. Police Chief Bobby Dodd said the change to the law would be beneficial to officers being able to do their jobs and properly address the problem.
"Safety at these event halls has been an issue for years," Dodd said. "The mayor's plan gives my officers the tools they need to do the job. As soon as this plan is approved by council, we'll be able to enforce this ordinance and hold accountable those individuals who are in violation of it."
The ordinance also mandates that in order for a permit to be approved event hall operators must submit a detailed security plan to the city. Applicants for a permit will have to pay a nonrefundable $30 fee every time a permit is sought.
After there are two violations of the ordinance at a particular event hall within a one-year period, the site is no longer eligible for a special gathering permit. Violations include but are not limited to operating past 3 a.m., the occurrence of violence or disorderly behavior, alcohol consumption by minors, the allowance of gambling, allowing minors to congregate, any violation of health department rules, and allowing litter or debris to accumulate on the site.
Violators of the ordinance would also be required to appear before the city's Beer and Wrecker Board and be punishable by a fine of between $25 and $50.
Berke said the changes to the law were in line with public safety being his top priority for the city.
"For the first time, we are holding property owners responsible, tightening the regulation on events and imposing clear consequences for those that break the rules," he said.
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