TUPELO – Tupelo’s nightclub ordinance – a local law passed in March intended to regulate problem gathering spots but criticized as overkill by area restaurants – likely will be scrapped next week by the City Council.
The ordinance required additional regulations of businesses that sold alcohol, held at least 100 people and played “amplified” music. The law called for beefed-up security and training classes. Violators faced misdemeanor criminal penalties, fines and possible jail time.
City Council members discussed concerns with the ordinance during a work session Tuesday attended by staff from police, development services and other city departments. The Council plans to readdress the issue at next week’s meeting.
Members of the Tupelo Restaurant Association voted unanimously a few weeks ago to ask the City Council to repeal the ordinance, which they said would lead to unintended consequences.
Blair Hughes, owner of Park Heights and South restaurants and a spokeswoman for the restaurant group, told council members at the work session that certain regulations seemed like overkill. She said one example is people attending wedding receptions at her downtown business would need to walk through metal detectors.
“We feel like there are currently some laws and ordinances that can probably take care of the problem establishments,” Hughes said before the work session.
Current alcohol laws and beer ordinances in Tupelo require businesses to receive at least 50 percent of sales from food, city attorney John Hill said. City officials also pointed to existing noise and ordinances, along with fire code violations that allow police to require a business to create a safe environment.
However, Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton said during the work session that law enforcement had limitations with current local laws related to nightclubs.
“Nothing really addresses the business on our end,” he said. “It’s the part of them getting out of hand and us not being able to shut them down.”
Officials in the Tupelo Police Department worked on creating the ordinance after an early New Year’s Day death in 2011 at a nightclub at 2207 McCullough Blvd. that has since closed. Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan said he first pushed for action with a goal of stopping customers from bringing their own alcohol to businesses in town.
After passing the nightclub ordinance in March, council members intended city staff to enforce it a month later but delayed enforcement after finding challenges with many parts of the 18-page law. Unless City Council members reverse course from the previous council and rescind the ordinance, city staff will begin enforcement in October.
“They basically killed a gnat with a nuclear bomb,” said Ward 2 Councilman Lynn Bryan. “We need to go back and address the initial problem.”
Council members advised staff of city departments including police, fire and development services to work with representatives with the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the area restaurant association to formulate something more acceptable.
The biggest gripe from restaurant owners and management about the ordinance came from the definition of a nightclub, which included restaurants that served alcohol and had amplified music, video games, dancing or table games.
The ordinance also limited locations for new restaurants that fit the law’s definition of a nightclub. Neal McCoy, executive director of Tupelo’s CVB, said the only land that fit the narrow scope of the ordinance was located near The Mall at Barnes Crossing and along South Gloster Street.