Minneapolis could gain more power over problem businesses

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  • February 12, 2013 - 3:01 PM

By Maya Rao

Minneapolis could soon wield more power over troublesome bars, clubs and other businesses. A City Council committee approved regulatory changes on Tuesday that would allow Minneapolis to impose mandatory conditions on businesses that don’t cooperate to fix ongoing violations.

Under the new rules - which require approval from the full City Council - the city could put limitations on hours and locations where liquor can be sold in the building, the occupancy level in all or parts of the business, and the admittance of people under age 21 to areas where liquor is not sold.

The changes grew out of concerns last year about drunken mayhem and violence at bar closing time downtown during the weekends. In July, after a surge in violent crime downtown, Minneapolis pressured clubs to stop hosting under-21 parties on Sunday nights and enhance security. And after threats to revoke their licenses following multiple violations, Envy Nightclub and Bootleggers surrendered them and shut down.

Since then, officials have held seven public meetings with more than 100 business representatives to discuss suggestions for the city to tackle problem businesses.

But several businesses pressed their concerns at Tuesday’s meeting of the Regulatory, Energy and Environment Committee that the new rules could be too vague and even discourage investment.

John Barlow, an owner of Epic Entertainment, said the language of the ordinance was overly broad and unclear about how many violations a business would have to rack up before the city stepped in.

“The more people you have, the more propensity for troubles, for problems,” said Barlow, whose business is a large downtown venue. “I don’t think it’s fair for us to put them in one category.”

Dan DiNovis, who manages four venues with liquor licenses, said there are already rules in place for licensing staff to deal with problem businesses.

“But if a bunch of businesses have restrictions on their license, it makes it not a place for people to invest and do business … it’s bad for new and current business owners,” he said.

Less than 1 percent of licensees in the city have conditions, which were all negotiated. But on occasions when business owners resist making changes, officials said, the city’s only option is a laborious process to revoke or deny their license.

City officials stressed that they would resort to the new rules only in rare cases.

“Any business that has no problems is not going to have any problems with this change, and even those that have some problems will have no problems with those changes,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents downtown. “The only businesses that will have problems with this are those that thumb their nose at our attempts to get them to comply with the law.”

Under the changes, regulatory staff would meet with the business to negotiate a voluntary agreement about conditions that will be placed on the license in an effort to prevent future violations. If they can agree on terms, they sign a document that will go to the council’s regulatory committee for approval.

If they cannot agree, a quasi-judicial hearing is held before the regulatory committee, or it may be referred to an administrative law judge for a hearing and recommendation to the regulatory committee when significant facts are in dispute. The committee then votes on the recommended conditions and forwards the decision to the full City Council.

License-holders can appeal the decision to the Minnesota State Court of Appeals.

Businesses would have multiple avenues to contest the city’s action, said committee chair Elizabeth Glidden.

“Mandatory conditions are something that would be applied when a business is at the end of the line,” she said.


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