published Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke proposes ordinance changes for 'special gatherings' at event halls

Mayor Berke holds a news conference outside a Main Street event hall, known as Boo Coo's, near where several recent shooting have taken place. Berke outlined new rules for such event halls.
Mayor Berke holds a news conference outside a Main Street event hall, known as Boo Coo's, near where several recent shooting have taken place. Berke outlined new rules for such event halls.
Photo by Maura Friedman.
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Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said Wednesday that to reduce fights, shootings and slayings at local event halls, the City Council needs to revise rules for "special gatherings."

Although the rules for such gatherings were adopted in 2010, not a single permit has been issued. The rules were never enforced.

Berke stood Wednesday in a parking lot next to a hall at 2510 E. Main St. near where two people have been killed and several others injured, including a 25-year-old man this past weekend.

He said he will ask the council Tuesday to revise rules for event halls, which aren't permitted or licensed like bars or nightclubs.

He said the new rules will apply to event halls that charge fees, allow more than 50 people in and let them drink alcohol, and host events that go later than midnight.

"We know that the event halls like the one that's just behind me have operated in a world without consequences," Berke said.

Part of the change includes making sure the venues shut down at 3 a.m. -- the same time bars close in Chattanooga.

"The trouble and violence has historically occurred after 3 a.m.," Berke said.

Police have counted five shootings so far this year at the East Main Street hall and one at 1622 Dodds Ave. Four occurred past 3 a.m. Those two halls have had more than 100 police calls including fights, disorders and shootings since 2010, records showed.

"Safety at event halls has been an issue for years," said Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd. "As soon as this plan is approved by council, we will be able enforce this ordinance and hold accountable those individuals who are in violation of it."

The change also requires organizers to submit applications to police at least five days prior to an event. If they are denied, they can appeal to the Chattanooga Beer and Wrecker Board.

Organizers have to demonstrate to officers that they have adequate security using state-certified officers, pledge that noise laws will be followed and report the number of individuals expected to attend.

The building owner, operator and event organizer have to pass checks, too. None can have more than two violations in the past year or they will be ineligible to get a permit. Applicants do not have to pass a criminal background check, but they can't have a record of alcohol-related violations in the last year, the proposed amendment states.

"We wanted to be clear. We wanted to close down loopholes. We wanted to make sure that owners, operators and organizers have joint responsibility. That is a critical part of the change," Berke said.

If someone hosts an event without a permit, police can automatically shut the event down, Berke said. Organizers will also be required to report any fights on the premises to Chattanooga police even if the people fighting leave.

"My No. 1 goal is to hold all people who are responsible to the same standards we hold everyone else to," Berke said. "We don't do that now."

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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