CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa’s second largest city is proposing to strengthen oversight of after-hours entertainment clubs that allow patrons to bring their own alcoholic beverages and where officials say police too often are called for fights, gunshots and other disturbances.
Under the plan, which currently is being vetted with the affected parties, Cedar Rapids would repeal antiquated and redundant dance hall and amusement ordinances.
The city would create an after-hours ordinance requiring clubs operating between 2 and 6 a.m. get licensed and inspected before operating; allowing police and fire departments to enter for a violation of the ordinance; and enabling the city to deny, suspend, revoke or take corrective action for breaching the ordinance.
“Right now if someone wanted to open a business between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., there is not a licensing process for the business,” said Amanda Grieder, Safe-CR manager for Cedar Rapids. “There is no way for police and fire to inspect the premises. A licensing process would provide the opportunity to work with a business owner to ensure a safe experience for the patrons.”
The annual license fee amount still is being considered, she said.
Grieder began researching how Iowa’s largest cities handle such businesses after an especially violent incident occurred about 4:48 a.m. June 9 at the now-defunct Club Mingle, 1140 Blairs Ferry Road NE. Social media video depicted a vicious brawl, including one man who appeared to get knocked out cold after being struck from behind with a hard object.
Lord Stephen Range, then the owner of Club Mingle, closed after the fight, although he noted he also had health issues. He said he had safeguards in place, including security and insurance, but he can’t control the behavior of all patrons at all times. He believed law enforcement should arrest those breaking the law.
After holding a couple of private parties since then, he said he will not reopen in Cedar Rapids.
“These laws really only has to do with me,” he said. “This has nothing to do with no other nightclubs, just to do with me. I feel like they are just trying to make it harder on me. People been having nightclubs, strip clubs and people have been shot and killed at those places. Nobody was shot at my place.”
The new ordinance would apply to BYOB clubs modeled like Club Mingle. BYOB strip clubs, including Woody’s Show Club, 9395 Sixth St. SW, and the Lumberyard, 5910 Fourth St. SW, which have been traditionally difficult to regulate, would also be covered, Grieder said.
Police are aware of only those three establishments, which they say have consumed 526 hours of police time for calls since Jan. 1, 2018.
Businesses serving alcohol are regulated under liquor licenses, which require service to be shut down by 2 a.m. in Iowa. BYOB after-hours clubs are caught in limbo because they don’t serve alcohol. Grieder said Club Mingle had only to ensure it was in compliance with the zoning code before opening.
The proposed ordinance is not intended to regulate gas stations, grocery stores, hotels, motels, businesses holding liquor licenses or gatherings that occur at a residential property, according to the city.
“There is a gap,” said Dale Todd, a City Council member and member of the Youth Services and Public Safety Committee, which learned about the proposal Sept. 16. “We are obviously concerned we don’t have the ability to regulate these after-hours clubs, particularly where there might be a propensity for violence.”
Susie Weinacht, a fellow council member and chairwoman of the committee, said that with the volume of calls for police service, officials want to ensure public safety agencies have the appropriate tools.
“Unlike businesses with a liquor license, there is not much leverage for the city to address problems that occur at these businesses,” Weinacht said. “We believe that this ordinance is an important step to ensuring that all of our businesses have a safe environment.”
The safety committee is expected to review the plans a final time before making a recommendation to the council, which could formalize the plans by the end of the year.
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The public can weigh in on the proposal from 5 to 6 p.m. Monday and from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday, both times at the Community Room in the Cedar Rapids Police Department, 505 First St. SW.
The belief is that the existing building permitting process already provides safeguards to ensure a safe property, including inspections by the fire department and building services. So the existing dance hall and amusement ordinances were an extra hurdle for customers for a service the city was already providing, Grieder said.
Cedar Rapids has 37 amusement licenses on file, which apply to businesses such as pool halls, skating rinks, bowling alleys and theaters, and 13 dance hall licenses on file, which applies to businesses with a dance hall, according to city data and information.
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