Greensboro narrows scope of club security ordinance

by Jeff Sykes

Club owner Jason Ferguson speaks to council.

Greensboro’s City Council considered a spate of amendments to the proposed club security ordinance Thursday, including raising the threshold for compliance to clubs with more than 299 patrons.The council passed an ordinance requiring higher levels of security and training in nightclubs following a shooting downtown in November. Pushback from nightclub owners over the cost of implementation caused council to suspend enforcement of the ordinance while they considered its finer points.Following a Jan. 7 meeting at which council considered several amendments, City Attorney Tom Carruthers presented a plan to increase the threshold for compliance and to expand the scope of establishments affected by the law.Council member Zack Matheny, who chaired the special meetings of council at Mayor Nancy Vaughan’s request due to his work on downtown security over the years, pointed out early on that expanding the scope of the ordinance to include event centers and bars and restaurants open past midnight was not something he favored.Several club owners, and members of the public, had pointed out that levels of violence at certain bars and restaurants in town exceeded that of most nightclubs subjected to the ordinance. Jason Ferguson, one of the owners of Bar 180 on Spring Garden Street, said at Wednesday’s meeting that having armed security outside of his club could cause some college students to shy away from his door in favor of nearby competitors.But Mayor Vaughan and Council member Nancy Hoffman, among others, supported Matheny’s position that expanding the scope beyond nightclubs was not something the city wanted to do.Beyond the issue of scope, Carruthers proposed moving the attendance threshold for compliance up from 100 persons to more than 299.The ordinance would only be in effect from Thursday through Sunday and cover the hours 9 p.m. to 30 minutes past closing. This was tailored to control expenses to regulated clubs as much as possible, Carruthers said. The original ordinance contained language requiring clubs to monitor patrons in a 150-foot area outside of the facility, but after much discussion, led by Council member Marikay Abuzuaiter, regarding concerns over property rights and the distance between businesses downtown, it was suggested that the ordinance cover the facility, parking lots and waiting lines.”We are focusing on the patrons of the club and not the members of the public,” Carruthers said. Matheny noted that council was responsive to the feedback received from club owners and the public.”We’re trying to craft something that makes sense and that shows we listened to everybody,” Matheny said. During the public comment portion of the meeting, several club owners still expressed concern about the regulations, even as staff continued to determine which clubs are exempt. Drew Wofford, owner of Chemistry nightclub on Spring Garden Street, learned that his club would be exempt, since its capacity is under 300 and he’s had no incidents of violence in his more than two years in business.Brad Semon, part owner of the Empire Room, an event center on Elm Street, said many people would have concerns about wading through armed guards outside of nightclubs downtown.”It’s a difficult thing for me to adjust to,” Semon said. “Think about how we would feel walking into an establishment (with armed guards) because someone made an unfortunate choice. Is that really how we want to present our city?”Ferguson, from Bar 180, said he felt it was unfair to incur the expense of armed security when his bar and restaurant neighbors would not. Bar 180 has had only one incident that would put them on the list according to the city’s definitions, but it happened outside his club and was possibly between passersby and not patrons at his business.Ferguson said his business was “a college bar in a heavily policed area” and the additional measures were unneeded.Toward the end of the meeting Council member Yvonne Johnson made a motion to continue suspension of the ordinance until the council’s Feb. 4 meeting. The current moratorium would have expired Jan. 16.Read more about this issue in the next edition of YES! Weekly on Jan. 21.