What makes a night club
Occupancy of more than 100
Serves or allows alcohol between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.
Used as a cabaret, dance club, entertainment restaurant, music club, sports bar or comedy or entertainment establishment
Source: Chattanooga City Code
IF YOU GO
What: Chattanooga City Council meeting
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: City Council Building, 1000 Lindsay St.
Joel Seiner has more than $100,000 riding on tonight's Chattanooga City Council meeting.
After planning for months and investing about $150,000 in a sports bar, Seiner must wait for a City Council ruling to see if he can open it.
Seiner is co-owner of FANatics 2, a spacious bar with big-screen TVs, pool tables, dart boards and karaoke located in Hixson on Highway 153 in the same shopping center as Cici's Pizza.
He wants to open it for sports fans and dart leagues, but because of a zoning ordinance change, the bar is considered a nightclub, prohibiting him from serving alcohol after 11 p.m. because of the bar's closeness to homes.
"Our biggest fear is opening, serving beer and liquor until 10:59 and then shooing everybody out the door saying, 'You can't drink anymore,'" Seiner said. "How many of those customers are going to go away with a bad taste in their mouth? How long is it gonna take to earn their business back?"
In August 2009, the City Council created the special exemptions permit to make sure that nightclubs don't negatively affect surrounding neighborhoods, businesses and public facilities.
But the council has placed a moratorium on issuing exceptions to the ordinance, and Assistant City Attorney Phillip Noblett said the council is working to make some kind of change to it. An amendment to the ordinance is up for first reading tonight.
"It gives the council a little bit of discretion," he said. "When you're dealing with strip development in Chattanooga here, oftentimes you have developments that may have a lot of noise very close to residential property owners, and the distance restrictions are trying to make sure that you've got at least enough of a buffer distancewise where those will not be a nuisance."
Seiner's hands are tied, however. Though the bar will sell food and do business during the day, he said sports sometimes run late, and pool and dart leagues often don't even start until after 11 p.m. Once a venue gets a reputation for cutting off alcohol early, it's hard to lose the stigma, he said.
Nevertheless, the business simply must open, Seiner said.
"I've got a family to feed," he said. "This has taken our life savings to do this, and my wife'll kill me if I don't start generating an income instead of just being a money suck from her."
FANatics 2 isn't the only business running into trouble with the ordinance. Pin Strikes on Lee Highway, a local bowling alley and arcade that serves alcohol, has been shutting down the bar at 11 p.m. since it opened in October, costing the business more than $60,000 by the end of January, according to general manager Michael Dean.
"The problem is that now, at 11 o'clock on Friday and Saturday night, or 10:45 when I call last call, the place empties out," he said. "People at the door, when they find out that the bar isn't open, they just turn around and leave."
Dean said he's frustrated with the way the ordinance change has been handled and he thinks it would be in everyone's best interest to get the issue resolved as soon as possible.
"The city makes money and the state makes money off of us doing well financially. The higher revenue, the higher tax base, the more money they get form us," he said. "If I were to do $60,000 more a month because of a change in the law, you'd be looking at another $5,000 in tax, so $5,000, 12 months, that's another $60,000 in the city coffers."
Noblett said the ordinance was created following noise issues with a nightclub located near Brainerd Road.
"If they had lights outside, anything that would be annoying the adjoining neighbors, that's what we've been trying to deal with," he said.
But in Seiner's case, nearby residents don't seem too worried about FANatics 2 opening in a shopping plaza that already holds a Cici's Pizza and an auto shop.
"Cici's is full of kids all the time, and we don't hear anything from them," said Robert Holloway, whose front door is about 590 feet away from Cici's and FANatics 2. "If we don't hear that, I don't think we'd hear what goes on in a sports bar."
Candee Campbell, who lives across the street from Holloway, said she hears when trucks empty the plaza's trash containers but wasn't concerned about noise from FANatics 2.
"Doesn't really bother me either way," she said.
Seiner said he'll be at tonight's council meeting to speak up in case things don't go the way he hopes.
"We're not trying to ruffle anybody's feathers," he said. "Those guys (the council), they've got a tough job. They're trying to make tens of thousands of people happy, and we're trying to make a few people happy. I sympathize with them; I just hope it goes our way."
Contact Carey O'Neil at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6525.