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Albany officials want to regulate event centers

Albany officials say there are four known event centers operating within the city limits.

A man rides a bicycle near MJ's Event Center Tuesday afternoon. City Commissioners are considering further regulating event centers.

A man rides a bicycle near MJ's Event Center Tuesday afternoon. City Commissioners are considering further regulating event centers.

ALBANY — Albany city commissioners voted Tuesday to request input from the city/county Planning Commission on a proposal to regulate so-called event centers in the city.

The plan would, among other things, more clearly define all types of entertainment establishments located within the city and address complaints about criminal activities at late-night entertainment venues that remain open past operating hours of businesses licensed to sell alcohol, that sell alcohol on premises not licensed for alcohol consumption, and that sell or serve alcohol to persons under the legal drinking age.

Code Enforcement Director Mike Tilson presented the proposal recommended jointly by his office, the city attorney's office, the Albany Police Department, the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit and the Planning Commission.

"We're recommending this proposal to regulate event centers and all other entertainment establishments in the city," Tilson said. "This puts rules in place that will help law enforcement efforts to do so."

City officials have drawn numerous complaints from what they say are four active event centers in the city. Among the complaints are underage consumption and sales of alcohol, traffic congestion, noise, proximity to residential areas and the skirting of laws regulating the sale of alcohol and alcohol licenses.

"Eighty percent of the problem is teenagers being allowed on the premises where alcohol is served and the owners of these event centers coming up with a way to avoid buying alcohol licenses," Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell said. "These party planners are using the (alcohol) licenses of caterers, and the people at their parties are giving drinks to kids. And those kids are creating havok in the city.

"We need to make sure we get this right; I don't want another situation where we take a business license and have a judge give it back because it was not done properly. These event centers have come up with a scheme where they're selling alcohol to 18- to 20-year-olds. They're promoting crime among teenagers, and I don't think y'all understand what teenagers are about now. They're about killing you, not kissing you."

The city had placed a moratorium on the establishment of any new event center in December 2011, but that act has since expired. The proposed ordinance would not only define such centers, it would regulate alcohol-related issues, business license requirements and limit catering events to private parties.

"One thing that needs to be made clear is that the caterers who have alcohol licenses are putting their license in jeopardy (at events where alcohol is served)," Tilson said.

Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta endorsed passage of the ordinance.

"I enthusiastically support this as a way to get this problem under control," he said. "I would hope that things like hours of operation, monitoring parking lots, littering and noise complaints from private properties would all be addressed."

Tilson said all those issues were specifically addressed in the proposal, but City Attorney Nathan Davis acknowledged that enforcement of the ordinance could be problematic.

"This is a tough one," he said.

The downtown State Theatre is one business that would be impacted by passage of the proposed ordinance. Owner Lane Rosen said he's pleased with the action proposed by the city.

"I'm usually against over-regulation, but those of us who are voluntarily following the rules commend the city for taking an intelligent approach to this problem," Rosen said. "Mr. Tilson and his department actually got input from the businesses affected by the event centers while they were researching the issue.

"Of course, if you don't follow up the rules that you put in place with enforcement, they're pretty much meaningless."