Alderman Schulters turn: The committee chair responds to music community worries about the promoters ordinance

SHARE Alderman Schulters turn: The committee chair responds to music community worries about the promoters ordinance

Here are the comments of Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th), the chairman of the city licensing committee, about the concerns of many in the Chicago music community pending the City Council vote on Wednesday on the new promoters ordinance.

Q. Alderman, the Chicago Music Commission voiced its concerns pretty eloquently in a statement released the other day: Theyve said the city was listening to its input on the law, but something seems to have broken down. They wrote, CMC is extremely disappointed in the citys public comment process for this significant change to Chicagos music landscape, especially given the citys commendable past efforts to work with the music community on this important effort. What happened? Why is the public comment process being cut short and this thing being rushed to a vote next week?

A. Weve been meeting since July. More time and energy has been put into this than any other ordinance… First of all, I am not the author of this, or the sponsor. That would be a good question for the mayors press secretary, Jacqueline Heard. What I did, as soon as it got into my arena, I held it up. In fact, your colleague at the Sun-Times, Fran Spielman, was saying, Why did it take so long? Its been five years since the E2 situation. Well, since last July, weve been having a lot of meetings on this, along with Department of Business Affairs & Licensing, and a lot of the aldermen brought a whole host of other people that might not have even been part of any process in the past to get their input. And they came up with some really great changes. So if you look at the original ordinance

Q. I have, and the CMC did a comparison of the two. They were very happy about some of the changes

A. A lot of them were their recommendations, actually. I respect all the people involved in that organization; theyve been very eloquent in talking about their issues. But I think that what they dont want is a promoters license. Cutting right to the chase, I dont think they want to see a promoters license.

Q. I think that many people in the music community dont understand why a promoters license is necessary if youre dealing with a venue that is already PPA-licensed.

A. The problem, Jim, is that you dont know who is handling that part of the business. Unfortunately, weve had incidents in the city where people have been murdered, people have been accosted, there have been fights, and what were trying to do, our goal is not to hurt anybody, but to really help the promoter as well as the person in charge of the venue. Because right now, the only person that really is responsible is the person that runs the venue. I think that this gives a different status to the promoters, and I think that is a good and healthy thing. The community that these events are held in should know whos hosting these events. If its not the person who owns the venuesince they are licensed, youre right, they dont need to have another license, so they were excluded; at one time, they were going to have to get the additional license, but Im all for less is better with mebut in this particular arena, if you go and talk to the community organizations throughout the city, and the complaints that I get across the board, and that the police department gets, youve got some promoters, a few, who make the good people look bad.

Q. I understand that, alderman. But it seems like theres a cultural gap, and we saw this with the anti-rave ordinance in 2000, as well. There is a world of difference between a fly-by-night dance promoter who does an event in an unlicensed venue, and, say, a group supporting community radio that wants to hold a benefit at a club like Schubas. This ordinance doesnt seem to recognize that. Nocturna is a dance night promoted by a world-renowned gothic DJ at Metro; now, shes going to have to get a promoters license, even though Metro is very exacting in making sure everything is done by the books at that venue. This ordinance has the potential to hurt events like these and not necessarily target the underground promoter whos going to stay underground. And there are already a hundred laws on the books to go after that underground promoter. If you look at E2, there were many complaints already filed against that club, the city could have shut it down for a number of reasons that would have prevented the tragedy there, and you would not have needed this promoters ordinance to do that.

A. But how do you make the distinction, Jim?

Q. You could rule out any venue that already has a PPA license.

A. Thats the crux of the problem. How do you then know who these promoters are? How do you then make sure that the person is marketing the event, they market it to such a large audience that 1,000 people show up where theres only room for 500, and the rest of the people are outside.

Q. I live up the block from Wrigley Field, and that happens with the pennant race! The promoter advertises but cant control how many people show up; the good venues have the security in place, and its their responsibility to handle the crowd and say, Im sorry, were at capacity.

A. So the venue is obviously still responsible, but dont you think that we need to know who is doing all this in the neighborhoods of Chicago?

Q. Lets look at a club that has music six nights a week, 52 weeks a year. The city doesnt need to know every one of the three bands that plays every night 300 nights a year, does it? Then, if 50 of those nights are sponsored by independent promotersone nights a ska night, and one nights a psychedelic rock nightwhy do you need to know that? Say I have a psychedelic-rock fanzine, and twice a year at a club like Schubas, I host my psychedelic rock night.

A. Unfortunately, youre citing an upstanding venue.

Q. But thats the problem. The CMC has written: The language of the ordinance as drafted unnecessarily and perhaps prohibitively increases the cost of doing business for any promoter seeking to work with PPA-licensed music venues under 500 seats and those without fixed seating, including, among many others, Schubas, Buddy Guys Legends, the Vic Theater, the Riviera Theater, the Metro, the Hideout, Uncommon Ground and Martyrs. These are clubs that have gone through a lot of trouble and expense since E2 to make sure they conform to safety requirementsand were all glad, because we want to be safebut now the city is adding an unnecessary burden to these clubs.

A. You brought up Martyrs: Ray Quinn doesnt have any outside promoters, as far as I understand.

Q. Sure he does. In fact, the city Department of Cultural Affairs has done shows theretheres an outside promoter.

A. Obviously, you bring up some very interesting issues, but how do we distinguish the good promoters from the bad promoters?

Q. Doesnt the city already distinguish between the good venues and the bad venues? The venues that have one complaint too many about underage drinking or fighting are quickly out of businessespecially in the wake of E2. Promoter is a nebulous word; under this ordinance, it could apply to anyone who holds a benefit. The guy in my band broke his leg; he doesnt have health insurance; were gonna hold a benefit to pay his medical bills. Suddenly, I’m a promoter. If I really have my act together and want to get certified as being a non-profit group so I’m exempt under this ordinance, that takes a long time and a lot of trouble.

A. Not really; what youre talking about is a 501C-3. You can go on the Secretary of States Web page and get not-for-profit status pretty quickly. In any event, Jim, I am having another meeting on Tuesday, and we have extended an invitation to a lot of the people you are talking about to come and talk over their concerns. So Im going to continue to listen to them to hear what they have to say.

Q. I think thats what everyone in the Chicago music community wants.

A. But weve been dealing with a lot of these people for more than a year. I can check my schedule: Weve met with every conceivable group on this issue, and there have been a lot of people who testified in favor of it. And as I said, the changes weve made, we made a lot of these changes after listening to a lot of these people, and well continue to listen to them to see what they have to say on Tuesday.

Q. The concern, alderman, is that CMC says point-blank: The ordinance will reduce the amount of music in Chicago, make events more expensive for consumers, dampen the large and growing economic engine that is Chicago music and create a much less supportive business climate for Chicagos small music business community. This is not a radical group; it’s actually as mainstream as you can get.

A. Well, let me talk with them on Monday and Tuesday. I appreciate the call, and I really have an open-door policy, and a lot of these people have been talking with me for a real long time, better than two years In fact, we were working on this well in advance of the E2 situation. What we dont want to do, obviously, is hurt the industry. We thought that this was helping the industry by giving them status so that you separate yourself from the bad operators that are causing a lot of problems in the neighborhoods now. Otherwise, what can happen, gone unchecked, we have more initiatives on ballots to vote precincts dry now, and that is just horrificthat really hurts the good venues with maybe one bad apple. You can knock out 12 good venues with one bad apple. So theres this balance between what I am hearing from people in the neighborhoods all over the city of Chicago and what we need to do here now. And the goal here was just to have more accountability, but well keep you posted.

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