CEDAR RAPIDS — After-hours entertainment clubs in Cedar Rapids — either at permanent locations or one-off events — would pay a minimum of $350 a year in new licensing fees under a plan that received preliminary approval Tuesday from the City Council.
The new after-hours business license ordinance would provide public oversight that doesn’t exist today and would require inspections to ensure facilities are safe and free of fire hazards. The city defines after-hours businesses as those open 2-6 a.m. primarily for entertainment, but without an alcohol license.
“Some of these places don’t have sufficient exits for people to get out if there’s a fire,” said Amanda Grieder, SAFE-CR program manager. “That’s why having a license is so important. This shows the city wants to allow events like this, but we want it to be safe.”
The council voted unanimously in favor of the new ordinance. The matter could be finalized with votes at the next meeting on Dec. 17.
“I wish it was sooner, but at the same time I’m really happy that we have a solution going forward to resolve this considering the issues we’ve had at after-hours clubs,” council member Ashley Vanorny said.
Only a couple of permanent after-hours clubs are in operation in Cedar Rapids. But police spend significant time responding to violent encounters and other issues at those locations, according to the city.
Two strip clubs — Lumberyard and Woody’s Show Club — are the only known businesses with permanent locations that would fall under the ordinance. A third establishment — Club Mingle — previously closed. Those three establishments had consumed more than 500 hours of police time since Jan. 1, 2018.
As is, the city has little recourse against after-hour clubs, Grieder said.
Police and fire officials are not authorized to enter most private clubs. The new rule would provide clear action for city officials to take if an after-hours business is operating without a license, and allow authorities to enter with probable cause of a violation of city or criminal code, she said.
The new license would also prohibit those under 18 from being at the establishment from midnight to 6 a.m.
The other venues that would fall under the ordinance are late-night parties often put on by disc jockeys in warehouses or other facilities not designed for such events. They often are organized over Facebook — which is how the fire marshal discovered some — and fly under the radar, Grieder said.
The city could revoke or suspend licenses, and in extreme cases placard the business for violations under the process.
The rules would apply to entertainment venues for social gathering, dancing or playing games of skill or chance as well as playing live or recorded music. If a violation were found, the business could submit a corrective action plan and appeal, under the proposed ordinance.
Exemptions include sanctioned school events, hotels and motels and private gatherings at residences.
The business would pay at least $350 once a year. The license would not be longer than terms of a lease and property insurance, so the business owner could have to pay the $350 fee multiple times per year in such cases, Grieder said. Those putting on one-off events would need to get a new license each time, she said.
Mayor Brad Hart expressed concern whether the license would discourage new businesses and sought an explanation for the fee.
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Grieder said it is based on estimated staff time and actual costs including wages and benefits. A city report estimated the rates at $88 per hour for a police lieutenant, $66 for fire marshal, $56 for a building inspector, $73 for a zoning administrator and $43 for a license specialist. The city noted fees also cover overhead like vehicles. But because some jobs take less than an hour, some of the wages were prorated.
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