A proposal to give City Hall new powers to deal more quickly with problem establishments is getting a hard look in Minneapolis.
Minneapolis business owners are taking a hard and somewhat wary look at a proposal to give City Hall new powers over business licenses in its effort to crack down on establishments that attract trouble.
The proposed change, backed last month by several council members and the mayor, would allow city regulators to impose restrictions or conditions on business licenses rather than merely seek voluntary agreements with owners of problem establishments.
Though the idea was announced recently as a way to curb late-night crimes near downtown clubs, it's been under consideration for years and would apply to every licensed business in the city, officials said.
Licensing officials say the new powers would hasten the process of attacking problematic and uncooperative businesses. Downtown club Bootleggers agreed Wednesday to close down, for example, but the new rules may have brought a resolution before summer's end.
"Speed is essential," said Grant Wilson, the city's director of business licensing. "We are a seasonal climate. So when things heat up in the summer, it's sometimes hard to control things in mid-summer before it's too late."
Imposed conditions could include regulating hours, occupancy levels, where certain activities can be conducted, the use of entrances and exits or any other "reasonable" condition to "ensure that the licensed business or establishment will comport with the character of the district in which it is located."
To impose a condition, the council would need to find that "good cause" exists.
A number of downtown business owners expressed mixed emotions during and after a presentation Tuesday at Minneapolis Central Library. They hope it will rid downtown of some establishments that are giving the area an unsafe reputation. But they also worry that future city leaders may not use the new powers judiciously.
"I wouldn't want to see a situation where they catch somebody smoking a cigarette in the bathroom, for instance, and all of a sudden it turns into, 'You can't do 18-plus nights,'" said Nate Kranz, general manager of First Avenue. "It seems like there should be a little bit more of a line drawn [regarding] what violations could trigger what conditions."
Kranz and others agree something needs to be done to combat perennial problems at downtown clubs' closing time, however. Dario Anselmo, owner of the Fine Line Cafe, relates it to exhaustive screening at the airport. "We're willing to put up with a little more hassle for our safety and security," Anselmo said.
Under current rules, the city has no explicit power to unilaterally impose restrictions on a liquor license. When a business becomes a problem, the city can impose fines, write citations and ask owners to voluntarily agree to conditions. Absent a resolution, city staff document violations at the establishment and then threaten to suspend or revoke its license -- a rare step.
"You want to be able to take an action ... to correct bad behavior before you get to that stage of all the evidence needed to revoke a license," said Elizabeth Glidden, chair of the city's regulatory committee and co-author of the proposal.
Joyce Wisdom, executive director of the Lake Street Council, believes the change will allow the City Council to target "the 10 percent or less [of businesses] that are perhaps behaving badly, without negatively impacting with further regulations the folks who are doing business the way they should be doing business."
But that flexibility also means ceding more power to city regulators. "This strengthens the city's hand at the expense of the current and prospective licensees," said Marshall Tanick, an attorney who has represented businesses in the licensing process. However, he also said the changes likely will lead to a more streamlined and efficient process.
The city is meeting with industry leaders to discuss the proposal and has not yet set a public hearing date. Another meeting with businesses is set for Sept. 12.
Along with discussing the proposed ordinance, Wilson and his staff are telling businesses that the city will still seek voluntary agreements to alleviate problems. If there is no resolution and there are disputed facts, they will refer cases to an administrative law judge, whose recommendation will be forwarded to the City Council.
"I know some of them are scared that they think that we're going to just be mandating conditions up and down Hennepin Avenue," Wilson said. "But it isn't the case. It just isn't the case."
Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper