Well, it only took 84 minutes for Efrat Dallal Stein, the spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs & Licensing, to respond to my request for an interview with acting director Mary Lou Eisenhauer, a driving force behind the promoters ordinance. Eisenhauer was out of town, but Stein said she was prepared to address all of my questions and speak publicly on the proposed law, scheduled for a City Council vote on Wednesday.
The interview with DBAs Stein follows the jump. Im still waiting for the return call from Ald. Schulter, author of the ordinance.
Q. The Chicago Music Commission has written a letter to Ald. Schulter and DBA saying they dont feel like they had input into this new version of the ordinance
A. The Chicago Music Commission did testify at the committee meeting on the 7th.
Q. Yes, I know. But their letter states that they only had four days to review this law. It would certainly seem as if theres a rush to get this passed. Its been five years since the E2 tragedy; why the rush now?
A. Absolutely not, there is no rush to get this through committee. I think that this particular ordinance has moved extremely slow through the process. Since July of 07, that was the last time the committee met on this, there have been several meetings with the industry, people from the music industry, the venue industry, to really craft an ordinance that took into consideration all of the input that was given from the industry from the last committee meeting. I think thats actually quite the opposite, on the contrary of what youre saying. This ordinance has moved extremely slow, and its because of all of the input and consideration that the alderman and the department and the city got from the music industry.
Q. But if youve seen the letter from the CMC, they have substantive problems with the ordinance. For example, a local magazine or community radio show that wants to do a monthly We present our favorite local bands kind of show, theyre going to have to pay a steep license fee and get this insurance even if theyre working at a club that already has a public performance license and all the other licenses you can imagine: liquor, health, building and safety codes, you name it. And thats egregious for a lot of small, community-based promoters, and theyre saying its going to have a major impact shutting down music in this city. Ive talked to a dozen people since Wednesday whove said, This is going to have a very bad impact on us, and we dont feel like weve been heard.
A. A couple of things: I think that with any ordinance, theres going to be things that cannot accommodate every single person in a particular industry because the range is so large. I think with this particular industry, its a growing industry and it is in need of some sort of regulation, just like any other growing industry. I mean, you need a license to sell a T-shirt in the city of Chicago.
Q. But to run a concert venue in the city of Chicago, youre already subjected to a dozen licenses and hundreds of regulations.
A. The definition of an event promoter, though, you need to be very clear in who is exempt for this. It is not all cases of events that will need a license. There are exemptions to this, and if you are an event promoter who makes a living from marketing events and bringing people in to these events, in order for this industry to thrive and continue to grow, these are some very basic common-sense responsible business practices. The range of fees goes from $500 to $2,000 for a two-year license. The insurance requirement is that you have general liability insurance up to $300,000 per occurrence, which is very low, and its basically the same requirement for many other types of business in the city.
Q. I know that, but were talking about people who are going to promote an event at a club or venue that already has that insurance.
A. Not all the time. It depends on where the club is and what it is
Q. But promoters are saying to me that the law as its written does not make an exception between I want to hold a dance party in a warehouse and I would like to hold a benefit concert for an injured musician at a club that already has met every possible requirement it can meet as a good public venue in this city. This law doesnt make that distinction, and its going to be voted on Wednesday by the City Council without people having the chance to tell their elected officials thats the case. People are very upset about this, if youve read any of the blogging.
A. I have, and you know, Jim, I think that the input from the blogging is important. I just hope that the information through blogs is accurate.
Q. Well, I try to be thorough as a reporter, so I posted the whole law as it is currently proposed. Thats as accurate as you can get.
A. I know, but they dont read it. People want to take the parts that they dont like.
Q. Well, if my synopsis of the Ancient Greek in that ordinance is wrong, Im happy to hear it.
A. No, no, its right. I think one thing is the venue owner needs to contact the police commander; that was one thing that [Sun-Times City Hall reporter] Fran [Spielman] got wrong. Its the venue owner, not the event promoter, who needs to contact the police commander.
Q. But the question remains: What is the goal of this ordinance?
A. Its to place a level of responsibility into the hands of event promoters. There have been many examples and incidents where promoters operate with little public safety concerns, and hopefully this ordinance will help to prevent cases of overcrowding and put some sort of responsibility in the hands of promoters to ensure that events run smoothly and safely. Of course, many events already do that.
Q. O.K., but lets say Im a 19-year-old college kid at the University of Chicago, and I want to have a legal rave. I know thats a scary word to the City Council, but if you substitute sock hop for rave, maybe some of these officials will understand it. So I want to have a legal sock hop/rave at a legitimate venue like Metro
A. You want to have a sock hop? Back in the day, a sock hop didnt include many various kinds of drugs and weapons You talk about a sock hop and a rave, thats like worlds apart!
Q. No, theyre not, not really. Its just a cultural bias, and it seems like this ordinance is directed at not having dance parties
A. This has nothing to do with raves, this has nothing to do with sock hops, this has to do with people running businesses that have no responsibility when they go in and promote an event. Say, for example, the capacity of the venue is 200 people, and they promote it to 1,000 people, and they have 500 people that show up. They have an issue of overcrowding, they have an issue of 500 people who cannot get in who are standing out in front of the venue. The requirements of the audience are actually very simple, and I think that the main thing that people are concerned about is that they have to pay nowthey have to pay a license fee, and that is what Im hearing.
Q. What Im hearing is people asking, Why are you imposing these additional difficulties on me as an independent promoter if Im working with a venue that is already licensed to do this?
A. The city is legitimizing that the business of event promoter is a business, and that they require a license. I would say that the venue owner is not going to be upset, for the most part.
Q. But Ive talked to a dozen venue owners who are upset.
A. Well, why is that?
Q. Because they think that this is going to reduce the amount of business. Jam Productions co-founder Jerry Mickelson told the committee on Wednesday that he will have fewer events at the Park West and the Riviera because of this. Other owners of venues from 250 capacity to 1,500 capacity say, We are going to have fewer events at our venues because of this. Dont tell me the promoters are not upset; they are.
A. Look, I just work here [Laughs]
Q. I know, Im sorry
A. Look, this ordinance has taken a long time to develop, and a lot of things have changed from its original format, so I think you need to look at that.
Q. I have. The Chicago Music Commission did a point-by-point comparison with the ordinance as it stands today and the one that existed a year and a half ago. And they are saying, This is still extremely troublesome, and many independent promoters are saying the same thing.
A. Is there anything specifically?
Q. Sure. The Chicago Music Commission writes: 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. Many of these small and non-fixed seating venues rely on contracting with third party promoters for a significant portion of their revenue while their customers safely enjoy the entertainment. This ordinance will not address the bad actors CMC and the City agree are the root of the problemunderground promoters seeking to make a quick buck who put on unsafe events.
A. Well, like I said, Jim, there have been many examples and incidents where promoters operate with little public safety concern, and this ordinance requires promoters to operate with some very basic, common-sense responsible business practices, and that is what this ordinance is mainly about. Its about public safety, its about legitimizing a growing industry, its about licensing a business, just like any other business in the city of Chicago requires a business license, and it creates some very basic guidelines in which they need to operate from.
Q. But the promoters are saying its sort of like in order for me to take my car to the garage for repairs, I have to be a mechanic myself. This hurts independent promoters who are working with venues who already have the city approvals and the expertise.
A. Maybe the idea of having a license and having a contract is more intimidating than a particular event may be.
Q. Well, it is when it comes with requirements for insurance and a license fee. And I have to get fingerprinted, and youre going to do a criminal background check on me, and I have to be over 21 years old. Some of the top promoters in this city were 18 or 19 when they started their businesses.
A. But when they started, the drinking age may not have been 21. The drinking age is 21, and thats why they made it that way. But not every event is going to require the same things. Not every event requires security. Just because the contract requires that they assign the responsibilities of security, that doesnt necessarily mean that it requires security. Were not requiring security; all that were requiring is that the event promoter and the venue have guidelines and an agreement, that theyre in understanding of who is responsible for what. You take into consideration capacity, safety, security if needed, any electronic special effects that may come into play, and the fact that they will have insurance. Those are very basic things, and what were asking are very basic, common-sense responsible business practices that many of these businesses are already doing. Many of them already operate within a contract.
Q. Well, they have to, by law. The laws are already in existence for that to happen. This law doesnt make a distinction between whether Im renting a VFW hall and putting on a concert myself as a promoter, or Im going to an established venue that deals with events like mine every night of the week. Im being penalized even though Im going to an established, licensed business. It seems like the city is charging twice for the same thing; youve already got the legitimate venues license fee.
A. I hear it. I know. Thats the argument. I hear all the arguments, and Im taking notes of all the concerns and all the comments, and I will certainly share them with the license committee, and Im sure were all on the Internet reading the concerns of the industry. I hear where youre coming.
Q. Good, because 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. Thats about as pointed as it gets.
A. Just so you know, the license application process were going to make as easy as possible, as convenient as possible, were even considering putting it online, and this ordinance doesnt go into effect for 120 days, so we do plan on doing extensive outreach and just making this as easy as possible for someone to get licensed. Assuming that it passes.
Q. I understand that at Wednesdays committee meeting, the acting director was uncertain about who would even enforce this law.
A. I would say that typically, the enforcement is the Police Department and the Department of Business Affairs & Licensing.
Q. In the case of E2, which inspired this law, there were numerous city complaints about building and fire code violations, as well as the liquor license, in the months before the tragedy.
A. The reason why something is enforced is because theres a complaint or theres a problem. If theres no complaint and theres no problem, typically there is no enforcement.
Q. There were numerous complaints about E2, yet the club continued to operate. The existing laws were not enforced.
A. I cant use that as an example. Im just giving you the citys take on enforcement as far as nightclubs, bars, theatersthey operate all the time, 24 hours a day. Usually when there is a specific complaint, like right now there is a shooting, right now there is a fire, right now there is overcrowdingan immediate complaintthen the police will be on the scene and check licensing, or, there have been numerous complaints from the community, and we will do an inspection the night of the event, the Department of Business Affairs. Usually, if a venue operates without problems, if a venue operates within the law, they really have nothing to worry about. In terms of enforcement, the city is not looking to go out and check every licensed venue to see if theyre using a licensed event promoter. We dont have the resources to do that, and there is no need for that. Its just like operating a nightclub prior to this ordinance: If theres a problem, we come out. If were out there, were gonna check your license. If youre overcrowded, youre going to be shut down.
Q. Please, dont get me wrong: I spend a lot of time in rock clubs. I dont want to be in an overcrowded club that doesnt have a panic bar on the door in case there is a fire. No one likes being in an unsafe place. But when I go to a club that already has a PPA license, I know that Im safe there. And now, when I go to certain events at these clubs, the promoter is going to have to pay on top of the venue paying. It seems like double-dipping.
A. Its not, because the event promoter can go wherever they choose. Its a separate business. The city is recognizing this industry as a business that needs to be licensed, and with that comes a fee.
Q. Are people going to have any more say on this law before the vote?
A. I dont know. I know that there is a City Council meeting Wednesday, and if you reach out to your alderman, if you talk to Ald. Schulter I really cant speak to that, Im not sure. In terms of public hearings, no, because this went through the license committee, and the process is that it will be voted upon at the next meeting on May 14.
Q. So the music community that has these concerns isnt going to be heard in public again before this law is voted on?
A. No. As of today, the ordinance went through committee and the process is that it will be voted on at the next City Council meeting. Just keep in mind, Jim, that there were three hours of testimony that took place the last time, and Ald. Schulter took every single persons testimony. Im talking about July of 07, and from that time, there have been meetings that took place outside of the City Council chambers, about six meetings, to kind of hash out this ordinance and work through the concerns. Youre saying that no, the industry wasnt taken into consideration, and Im disagreeing with you. Remember that in July of 07, that was a major thing, and then from that time to now, there have been meetings with members of the industry.
Q. Im sorry, but if I go through my notebook full of complaints in the last few days from people who are major players in the Chicago music community, there are only two conclusions: A.) They didnt have any input, or B.) The city ignored their input. Because they say there are still serious problems with this ordinance, theyre saying this is going to have a devastating impact, and they dont feel like they were heard.
A. I understand.