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October 20, 2011

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2011 has been an eventful year of discussions, ordinances, hand-wringing and city council discussion about bars, nightclubs and live music venues. Earlier this year, the council approved a change to the fire code, at the urging of the city’s fire chief, to require existing establishments to install fire-suppression sprinkler systems. That fight has been chronicled here in The Pulse and elsewhere to a great extent. It was a big deal. Still is, in the sense that we will have to see how these establishments deal with the requirements as we approach the deadline for installing these systems in 2012.

Then, of course, there is the more recent event of the Beer Board’s revocation of Mid-Town Music Hall’s and 807 Fire & Ice’s beer licenses after both establishments were locations of disturbances requiring police on the scene and repeat violations.

Responding to the more recent events, some council members brought up the idea of designating an “entertainment district”,  a defined area of downtown that would group together certain types of nightlife establishments under specific ordinances and strengthen restrictions on where they can be located.

This patching of city ordinances does not signal progressive planning for growth for businesses like these.The nightlife and entertainment within a city is something that can, and should be, fostered just like any other type of business. These establishments have a particular purpose and fill the service needs of a city. The proposed changes equate to a reactionary, even an adversarial, way of addressing a perceived problem.

Let’s establish this truth one more time: If Chattanooga desires to make itself a city where a young, talented workforce can be retained and grown, it must have an environment that services their entertainment needs. Many times, these entertainment needs involve eating, drinking alcohol, dancing and live music. The Walnut Street Bridge and our wonderful park spaces don’t provide every opportunity for people to mix, mingle and build their social lives. Younger people will live in cities where they can balance work and play. Our public officials shouldn’t make it a tougher choice than necessary with short-sighted regulations. The fact is, being a boring city comes with great risks.

With that in mind, can we have a frank, open discussion between city leaders, business owners and stakeholders in the local entertainment industry here? A more long-range, intelligent idea about what role businesses that entertain our citizens have within our city’s landscape is very seriously needed. This discussion must be conducted with the insight that these businesses exist, that there will be more established in the future and that they are an important aspect of our mix of businesses—not something to be regulated out of existence.

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October 20, 2011

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