Chattanooga tries to combat 'problem' bars, clubs

Chattanooga tries to combat 'problem' bars, clubs

October 13th, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

The 807 Fire and Ice club is located on Market Street.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.


Name - Number of police calls from January-September 2011

* Electric Cowboy, 5600 Brainerd Road - 118

* JJ's Lounge, 2208 Glass St. - 87

* Raw Bar, 409 Market St. - 55

* The 807 Fire and Ice, 807 Market St. - 53

* Midtown Music, 820 Georgia Ave. - 52

The address used by Electric Cowboy is used by other businesses within the complex. All calls tallied may not be associated with the club.

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

Creating a downtown entertainment district.

Requiring nightclubs to submit security plans before a beer permit is granted.

Lobbying state lawmakers to amend current alcohol regulations.

Those are among the ideas of how to combat "problem" bars in Chattanooga.

Members of the Chattanooga City Council Subcommittee for the Beer Board Review met Wednesday to explore options on dealing with these nightclubs, which have numerous calls to police to handle add assaults, disorders, fights and shots fired reports.

The subcommittee, which is chaired by Councilwoman Deborah Scott, was recently formed to look at ways to address issues with alcohol-serving businesses and possibly revamp city codes for the Beer and Wrecker Board.

"There is no silver bullet," City Attorney Mike McMahan told the subcommittee. "The only thing you can really do is document violations, document violations, document violations."

The 807 Fire & Ice club on Market Street was specifically mentioned in the meeting.

The city's most recent homicide victim, Reginald Clark, was involved in an argument at the club late Thursday night. A short time after he went home, a group of men followed him from the club and killed him inside his home, according to police.

As of September, the club had a total of 53 calls for police service. Out of the calls tallied between September 2009 and September 2011, there were 20 noise complaints, eight disorders, five fights, as many as three assaults and one robbery, according to a report on "problem" bars issued by the Chattanooga Police Department's crime analysis unit.

Interview requests with Fire and Ice's management were not returned Wednesday.

On the club's Facebook page, a post states: "We wanna to thank all of our patrons that come out and support us. There has been a lot of negative publicity cast on us from the media lately. But our patrons know that The 807 is a great place with a awesome atmosphere."

Traditional methods


Police used data over a three-year period looking calls including assaults, disorders, fights and shots fired calls to come up with a "problem" label, according to reports issued through the police department's crime analysis unit. Most clubs have issues between midnight and 2 a.m. At the time one of the reports on "problem" bars was completed, Chattanooga police received a total of 148,658 calls for service.

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

In the past, city officials have used building codes, fire codes and beer permits to shut down bars where there are repeated calls. However, sometimes that's not enough.

Bars that have their beer permits revoked by the nine-member beer board can still sell liquor and wine, which are regulated through the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Fire and Ice recently had its beer permit suspended for 30 days by the beer board because of recurring incidents at the club, but it can still sell liquor.

To date this year, no nightclubs in Chattanooga have had their liquor license revoked, said Jim Richardson, a Chattanooga-based ABC agent who covers 17 counties.

City Attorney Michael McMahan advised subcommittee members that the city, as well as patrons and residents, can file complaints to ABC when there are numerous police calls at bars.

"I think we need to start filing formal complaints," McMahan said.

Richardson said the commission reviews every complaint that is submitted.

Going forward

As a way to prevent problems at city clubs in the future, subcommittee members are working to revamp the city's alcohol codes. The new rules might require nightclubs to submit a plan detailing the club's security, parking and lighting before the beer board granted a permit.

"You've got to look at lighting, parking and security. Not after the problems have already occurred, but before the problems," Scott said.

Such changes would go along with other criteria that must be met currently such as building codes or fire codes before a business opens, she said.

"They are hoops, but I think they are necessary hoops in our code," Scott said. "You are not only forewarned, but you have planned to prevent things we are experiencing in the community."

The city also may set a required ratio of club occupants to security guards and require security guards trained by state standards, subcommittee members said.

The subcommittee also asked the city attorney to draft new state legislation that would allow a liquor license to become suspended or revoked if the city decides to pull a beer permit.

"If you want to help us, we need more backbone," beer board member Chris Keene told the subcommittee.

Midtown Music Hall in Chattanooga

Midtown Music Hall in Chattanooga

Dealing with problems

Dealing with disorderly clubs can require a lot of police manpower, police said.

For instance, when there is an incident at Fire & Ice, it can take about 30 officers to respond to quell violence and manage crowds, said Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd.

A few weeks ago, police had to clear patrons from a portion of Market Street in front of the club, said Lt. Eric Tucker, who oversees the police department's Bravo team, which covers the downtown district.

"There was a huge crowd standing out front. We had two [officers] from the south end of Chattanooga, in Charlie, and the north end of Chattanooga, the Alpha team, to get control of the streets," Tucker said. "That's obviously a disorderly business."

When asked if there were efforts to improve security at the club after several recent incidents, Tucker said, "I have seen no evidence."

Midtown Music Hall, another "problem" club cited by police, recently had its beer permit permanently revoked. From September 2009 to September 2011 at the club, police responded to 17 assaults -- four of which were on officers -- eight disorders, 17 fights, 13 thefts and one person was stunned with a Taser, police records state.

POLL: Should a downtown entertainment district be created where tax increases can be used for local services and more security?

Other ideas

There is also discussion and research being conducted to create a downtown business improvement district which are present in other cities across the state.

The district functions by increasing taxes in the geographic area and using the funds for extra services, including streetscaping, recruitment incentives for businesses and security.

A district could be established if a majority of property and business owners decides to create one, or the City Council could create a district with an ordinance after holding a public hearing, said Kim White, president and CEO of River City Co., a downtown nonprofit redevelopment company.

"I am against an improvement district to address three clubs downtown," White said. "I think sometimes that makes sense, but you have to have stakeholders buy in. I think you have to address the problem clubs and get them addressed. I don't think that's the answer for this. ... I don't think the timing is right."

She said she supported the other ideas, including the site plan including security.

"I think the best way to address most of the issues is to take care of them on the front end rather than clean it up on the back end," she said.

Connect with the Times Free Press on Facebook