Council mandates licensing for events with alcohol sales

Shira Kantor

Citing out-of-control parties as its impetus, a Minneapolis City Council committee adopted an ordinance Tuesday requiring licensing for large events where alcohol is sold.

After nearly a year of grappling with the issue of overcrowded “raves” – large parties often marked with rampant drug use and illegal alcohol sales – the City Council chose to regulate gatherings by forcing rental hall owners to purchase a $1,000 license before throwing any parties.

The proposed ordinance also states that the licensee must buy general liability insurance and provide at least one security guard for any “event attended by 50 or more people, if beverage alcohol is present, or if guests dance to live or recorded music.”

Exceptions are made for theaters, parties with fewer than 50 people, bona fide religious or political functions and parties held on school, university, church or city property.

All other rented arenas and those where attendees must pay a fee to attend are subject to the new provision.

Sixth Ward City Council member Dean Zimmermann questioned the ordinance’s motivation, saying he didn’t want to see a repeat of “what happened over on the West Bank with the Hard Times Cafe.”

“Is this an attempt to make it illegal to be a young person or anything like that?” Zimmermann said.

The City Council revoked the Hard Times’ operating license in June 2000 after a drug transaction between an undercover police officer and a cafe co-owner. Cafe owners said they were targeted because of their diverse clientele.

Clara Schmit-Gonzales, deputy director of licenses, told Zimmermann the main concern is safety.

“We had a fire marshal on more than one occasion tell us that in case of a fire, there was no way for the 500 people in the warehouse to get out,” she said.

Karen Abramson, a community crime prevention specialist in northeast Minneapolis, said numerous problems with warehouse raves – including stabbings, shootings, fights and vandalism – impeded the precinct’s abilities to respond to other calls for police help.

Abramson described her frustration to the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee.

“There was no way to hold these rental halls accountable,” she said. “Things have just really gotten out of hand.”

Third Ward City Council member Joe Biernat authored the ordinance.

He said after several attempts to meet with a problem fraternal organization – a group that refused police protection for its parties and “had no desire and no reason to come meet (with the City Council) and address the problem” – he had to find a measure by which to hold them accountable.

“We had no recourse,” Biernat said. “We wanted to revoke licenses, but we found out we don’t have a license to revoke.”

The full City Council will officially vote on the ordinance in Friday’s meeting.

“And for the record,” Biernat joked as he closed the discussion, “I’m not against young people; I was young once. Once.”

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