Problems associated with special event halls have been brought to the forefront by three recent deaths, said Gary Ball, a community activist. He along with two other citizens with interests in the areas around Main Street and Dodds Avenue came to the meeting of the Chattanooga Beer/Wrecker Board Thursday morning.
“I think in some way, it should come back to this board,” he said. The beer board is made up of members from each neighborhood in the city and they should have the same interests as the neighborhoods that they represent, he said.
Specifically, the two venues being discussed were 2510 Main St., and Da Building located at 1622 Dodds Ave. These establishments are beer oriented, said Mr. Ball, and promote underage drinking. The Chattanooga Police Department is burdened by making visits to these places, having responded to over 100 calls to these two clubs since 2010. He added that when a business such as these are closed down, they just open in another place.
These venues operate under the radar since no business license is required, he said. Currently, they also are not required to hold a beer license because the way the business is structured, the owners do not technically sell beer themselves. The facility is rented out to organizations that hold the functions and they are the ones providing beer. In lieu of selling the drinks customers have to pay $10 for parking, said Tammy Haas, the second neighborhood spokesperson. Then they park wherever they want in the vicinity, sit on top of cars eating, drinking littering and listening to loud music.
The people running the businesses are not stupid, said Mr. Ball. They pass all fire and health inspections, take care of any violations and clean up the neighborhood before leaving the following morning and so pass checks made by city officials with flying colors thereby avoiding scrutiny.
Authorities must have probable cause to go into the building and check I.D.s. The buildings all have cameras focused to the outside and people inside can see if police are in the area, it was stated. If so, the underage drinkers have time to “dump the drinks” and when the police do enter there is no evidence. They are well-planned operations that have found loopholes and are exploiting the system, the board was told.
People migrate to these two locations after other clubs close at 3 a.m., and typically, use of these clubs is from midnight to 5 a.m., it was stated. They operate under the guise of hosting special events. However, these occur every Friday and Saturday night, speakers said. The problems have been on-going for 15 years, Police Sergeant Mark Haskins agreed with Mr. Ball.
Dexter Staples, owner of Da Building, came forward to defend his business. He told the board that one of his biggest problems is that he is being compared to 2510 Main Str. He also blamed a manager that he no longer employs for some issues concerning his building. He claimed that his location was closed the night of the last shooting.
He said that he personally does not sell beer but organizations that have rented from him have lied about beer and so now he requires a written contract requiring that the renter holds a beer permit. He also said that the contract limits the amount of beer to three cases per event. James Hobbs, chairman of the board, then noted that anything over three cases requires a permit.
Mr. Staples has owned the building since 2011, and said it is legally a restaurant and event hall. Andre Harriman told him since it started as a place to eat, then evolved into a place to rent out that stays open until 5 a.m. "where you have lost control, it sounds like you’re letting the tail wag the dog.”
In consideration of time, Chairman Hobbs stopped the discussions and said that the board members will take everything they heard into consideration and pass it along to the City Council. Assistant City Attorney Keith Reisman said that the administration takes this issue very seriously and that the matter is being worked on and that a solution is expected quickly.
In regular business, the board issued beer permits for two special events. The Northshore Merchants Collective is planning the North Chattanooga Block Party for Aug. 3. It will take place outside at the Chattanooga Theater Center from 5-11 p.m. This is a non-profit group that is raising money to buy playground and fitness equipment that will be located in Coolidge Park.
Habitat for Humanity is organizing the fourth Chattanooga Mud Run that will be from 6 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Greenway Farms on Aug. 17. Expected to participate are 600 teams each with five runners. Start times will be spaced every two minutes for the 5-K course. In addition to beer there will be other beverages along with food vendors. Proceeds will benefit the work and mission of Habitat for Humanity.
Beer licenses were issued for Universal Joint, a new restaurant opening in an old gas station located at 532 Lookout St. at Fountain Square. The company opening this business has developed 14 similar restaurants but this is the first that will be located in a downtown area and the first in Tennessee, said Sean Corley, manager of the business. He said food is expected to make up 65 percent of the sales. Hours of operation will be Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m.-1 a.m. On Sunday it will open at 9 p.m. and close at midnight.
The Growler, located at 1101 Hixson Pike, will sell growlers of beer and six packs to go. Some beer and pre-packaged food will be sold on the premises. It is a very small location of only 500 square feet and will focus on the Hixson community. It will be open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
A carry–out beer license was approved for Tobacco and Beverage mart at 709 Signal Mountain Road, located in the BiLo shopping center, and for the Raceway gas and convenience store at 2528 Broad St.