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To Rein In ‘Problem’ Bars And Venues, Event Promoters Should Have To Register With The City, Aldermen Say

The plan would prevent business owners from shifting blame to promoters when something goes wrong, two aldermen say. But some club owners are pushing back.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) speak at a City Council meeting on March 23, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Two aldermen are pushing for additional oversight for bars and promoters that host live events so it is easier for the city to crack down on businesses flouting regulations — but some venue owners are pushing back.

Alds. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) introduced an ordinance earlier this year that would require bar and venue owners at establishments serving alcohol to register their event promoters with the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

The business hosting an event would be required to submit “the name, address and telephone number of each promoter that has been or will be engaged,” according to the ordinance. The business owner would have to complete and submit an “exterior safety plan” to receive the license necessary for live events with more than 100 people.

Waguespack said the promoter clause will help local leaders hold businesses accountable for security problems and complaints.

But a prominent concert promoter and venue owner blasted the proposal Tuesday, calling it a “nightmare” and “totally unnecessary.”

“If there’s bad actors out there, having a safety plan is not going to change their behavior,” said Jerry Mickelson, co-founder of Jam Productions and a founding member of the Chicago Independent Venue League. “I think that the city has ample means of controlling any bar or venue that is causing issues and it’s called license revocation.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
People walk along the 1500 North block of Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park on Oct. 19, 2021.

A public place of amusement license is required of all venues with a capacity of 100 people or more that are producing, presenting or conducting any type of entertainment or amusement, according to the city. The license is required regardless of admission fees.

The proposed ordinance would require business owners who serve alcohol to submit a safety plan to city officials when renewing their events license. The plan must address how a venue controls noise levels, potential fights or criminal activity among patrons, and how people enter and leave an establishment.

“What’s your ingress and egress? Your managers, your staff, how would they handle a safety situation or some kind of event? I don’t think that’s too hard to ask of everybody, to make sure that you have all your exits working, things like that,” Waguespack said.

Failure to comply with the safety plan within 30 days of approval “shall be grounds for suspension or revocation of any city licenses for the premises” under the proposed ordinance.

Bar owners often blame a promoter, who cannot be reached by city officials, when there is a problem, Waguespack said.

“We can’t find anybody to hold accountable. So that’s why we were looking at the promoters ordinance, just saying, ‘OK, if you’re going to be engaging in this, what we want is a safety plan and the names, numbers and person accountable as the promoter for each venue,'” Waguespack said.

Waguespack pointed to several bars, now closed, where leaders blamed promoters for incidents when the city got involved, including Granero in Logan Square.

“All the ones we’ve had problems with over the years, the business owner would say, ‘Well, it was the promoters’ fault.’ And then we say, ‘Well, who’s the promoter?’ And they would say, ‘I can’t disclose that,’ or ‘I don’t really know who it was,'” he said.

Waguespack said the ordinance isn’t aimed at concert venues in his ward like the Hideout and Beat Kitchen, but at the small number of bad operators causing problems.

The ordinance would also institute stricter deadlines to implement safety upgrades for bars facing disciplinary action. Waguespack said problem bars will often drag out hearings for months or even years to avoid making changes.

Mickelson said he thinks “95 percent” of Chicago venues follow the rules and shouldn’t have to pick up the slack for the few that don’t. Mickelson started Jam Productions 50 years ago, and it has since produced almost 40,000 concerts in Chicago, according to the Sun-Times. He also operates the Vic, Riviera and Park West theaters.

“There are better ways to do this. They know who the bad actors are. That’s who they should be focusing on. Not casting a wide net for those of us … who operate above board and follow the law,” Mickelson said. “There are plenty of tools for the city to close down a bad bar.”

Waguespack said he’s willing to negotiate with the music industry to find a compromise before a final ordinance goes to a vote in City Council. But the additional accountability is necessary to ensure bars and venues are operating safely across the city, he said.

“We’re going to probably get the most pushback on the promoter thing, but we’re going to try to work with all the music industry folks,” he said. “I always tell them, ‘Look, all you guys who do great stuff, we’re not concerned at all about you. … It’s just the other small percentage that make the rest of the industry look bad.'”

Waguespack said he and Reilly plan to hold briefing sessions for other aldermen on the ordinance this spring.

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