City wants more information before event center vote

Gail Tymes Backey, left, and Gail Brown are co-owners of BTB Events at 932 W. Broad Ave., one of several event centers located in Albany. City officials have decided to put off a vote planned for Tuesday night’s City Commission meeting on further regulation of the centers until more information is available.

Gail Tymes Backey, left, and Gail Brown are co-owners of BTB Events at 932 W. Broad Ave., one of several event centers located in Albany. City officials have decided to put off a vote planned for Tuesday night’s City Commission meeting on further regulation of the centers until more information is available.

ALBANY, Ga. -- It can't be much of a surprise that city officials decided this week to call off for further discussion a proposed vote on a text amendment that would, essentially, define event centers in the city at the commission's July night meeting.

As Code Enforcement Director Mike Tilson noted Tuesday, "If just the definition caused that much discussion (at the commission's July 9 work session), what's going to happen when we start talking about the rules?"

The Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission voted 6-1 at its July 2 meeting to send a text amendment forward to the City Commission that defines event centers and clarifies where the centers will be allowed in the city. When that amendment was brought up at the city's most recent work session, there was an overall feeling of concern that the owners of such facilities have not had enough opportunity to weigh in on the matter.

Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff said, "I'm not anxious to vote on a matter that affects businesses in the city without those businesses being aware of any changes."

City Manager James Taylor assured commissioners that staff would make every effort to inform event center owners of the proposed vote, but he noted the difficulty the city faced. "You realize that most of these businesses are not open in the daytime, during regular business hours," Taylor said.

The city manager, who also serves as interim general manager of the city's Water, Gas & Light Commission and was at a Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia meeting Tuesday, said he decided to take the proposed definition vote off next week's agenda rather than rush a decision.

"We have a pretty good working list of event centers in the city that will be impacted, and we want to get notice to them before we move forward with this issue," Taylor said. "I think the community and businesses will be best served if we delay this action for a month or so. We need to do more work first."

Tilson and City Attorney Nathan Davis have been working with Planning Director Paul Forgey and other city staff to draft an ordinance that would regulate the so-called event centers that have sprung up in the city in the past year or so. Citizens have complained that some of the centers are used as a front to skirt alcohol pour, sales and licensing laws and to provide an opportunity for underage drinking.

Gail Tymes Backey and Gail Brown, co-owners of BTB Events at 932 W. Broad Ave., and co-owners with Michael Backey of the Banquet Hall at 1015 W. Broad Ave., say they, like most other operators of such facilities, simply provide a place for private parties.

"We are in business to provide an event center and banquet hall to our customers for private parties," the Gail Backley and Brown said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "We're in the business to obey the law, and we feel we're entitled to know when the law changes so we can obey it."

The entreprenuers said theirs is a family-oriented business available for such events as repassings, birthday parties, receptions, homecoming activities and baby showers.

Tilson, who has worked for more than two years to put together a comprehensive ordinance by which event centers would be governed, said Tuesday that even though he's talked specifically with center owners during that time, more direct input would be invaluable in settling on a final version of the ordinance.

"We've discussed as many as four options -- including further regulation, prohibiting event centers altogether, making no changes in existing ordinances and changing city ordinances to allow 18-20-year-olds to attend events where alcohol is sold -- and Nathan and I are discussing others," Tilson said. "We've involved a small group of citizens in those discussions, and it is my intention as this process moves forward to get more involved.

"Mr. Taylor has indicated he wants to take this matter off the table right now while we look into it further. I think the idea is to get more feedback from the people who are directly affected, so I don't think we'll see a vote on this matter anytime soon."

Forgey said looking at the measure as a "whole ball of wax," rather than as two separate items (definition and then enforcement) is probably a better strategy.

"If we vote just on the definition with nothing about code and zoning issues, the people who are impacted won't be clear on any proposed changes," the planning director said. "There are several different departments involved in this issue, so it makes sense to get more input before the City Commission decides what direction they want to go."

Lane Rosen, owner/manager of the downtown State Theatre, said city officials have taken a "forward-thinking approach" to regulation of event centers.

"It's a complex issue," he said. "I commend Mike Tilson and other city officials for getting input from individuals directly impacted by any regulations. Businesses such as ours are actually businesses within businesses when we host an event, so certain regulations apply to us, others apply to promoters who use our facility and still others apply to caterers who provide food and/or alcohol."

Tilson admitted that a clear definition of event centers is needed before his office can determine what businesses are impacted by any changes to ordinances that affect them.

A "constantly changing" list of event centers in the city currently includes MJ's Event Center at 2401 Dawson Road, BTB and Banquet Hall, Renaissance Cultural Arts Center at 950 N. Maple St., Albany Downtown Development and Convention Center at 226 W. Broad Ave., the State at 313 Pine Ave., Playland Amusements at 2601 Dawson Road and Riley's Boxing Gym at 2401 Dawson Road.

Also subject to proposed new ordinances are caterers Grapevine Catering at 810 S. Westover Blvd., C&C Catering at 2734 Ledo Road, Lynne Ranew Mertens Catering at 1801 Dawson Road and Cafe 230 at 230 Broad Ave.