The Issue: Expansion of activities inside Emagine
The Cast of Players: Residents, Commissioners and Mayor, Police Chief, Spokesmen for Emagine, City Manager, City Attorney, Planning Director
It began with two Public Comment presentations whose intent was to pre-empt CITCOM approval of the Liquor Control Committee's recommendation to permit Emagine to expand food and alcohol service into what is now a storeroom and to offer live entertainment and dancing on the first floor and a couple other changes in its plan of operation. Bill Harrison, speaking for himself, rather than in his Downtown Development Authority role, advised the commission to suspend voting on the issue until they got a look at a just-released traffic/parking study which he had a copy of but which had yet to be seen by the DDA or anyone else. Civic activist and former candidate for commissioner Rick Karlowski recalled assurances of early Emagine supporters that it would not become just another big bar.
Harrison mentioned that there had been 57 police visits to Emagine in a year. Most listeners, of course, would infer that the calls were booze-related, but later in the meeting Interim Police Chief Corrigan O'Donohue clarified: most of the calls had to do with illegal parking and false alarms. There have been two arrests at Emagine. The department has no objection to Emagine's requests.
When the Emagine discussion began (Item 14C on the Agenda) Commissioner/Mayor Pro Tem Pat Capello acknowledged that she had been ready to approve Emagine's requested changes, but the potential parking issued mentioned by Harrison caused her to suggest the commission wait a week until the study could be evaluated by the DDA.
That set in motion half an hour of intense debate and suggestions and counter-suggestions which involved everybody at The Table. During the debate we learned that Emagine has been operating with the renewable once-a-month dancing permits. (The permit can be suspended without recourse at the discretion of the Police Department.) . . . Because the Emagine request included several items, there was discussion about approving some but not others, but City Attorney David Gillam pointed out that the State has some say about a couple of them. . . . Commissioner Jim Rasor suggested that the changes be approved for one year to see if any problems arise. . . . After spokesmen for Emagine spoke of how well Emagine's presence has gone with no complaints from residents or other businesses, Commissioner Peggy Goodwin countered that she has heard a few complaints about cars parking in the neighborhood. . . . When the discussion focused potential parking problems on peak nights, Emagine spokesman explained that at 9:30 or so, when the dancing and live entertainment would be starting, the movie-goers would be leaving, so parking would not be a problem.
About that Harrison-introduced parking study, Planning Director Tim Thwing pointed out that it was not aimed at Emagine, but initiated by the DDA to determine what changes, if any, have occurred in the northwest corner of the DDA since the last study. . . . City Manager Don Johnson pointed out that -- although CITCOM is meeting a week later -- the study will not have been reviewed by the DDA in that time. . . . Commissioner Mike Fournier reminded everyone that if a new business moved into one of the vacancies in the immediate area, there would be no CITCOM review of parking. . . . Mayor Jim Ellison let the debate go on a bit longer then called for the vote. Emagine's changed plan of operation was approved on a split vote, 5-2, with Capello and Goodwin voting no.
The Emagine debate was substantive and intense but the only evidence of irritation or anger was when Capello chided her fellow commissioners for behaving like traffic/parking experts by being unwilling to wait to learn what the DDA study reveals.
No more Public Hearings re Lot Splits
After making a meaningless vote re a lot split, the commission -- at Don Johnson's recommendation -- approved the resolution to discontinue the legally unnecessary public hearings before CITCOM. (If Planning approves a lot split, CITCOM cannot reverse it, although under former mayor Dennis Cowan's guidance, one was taken so far as to require lawyers for the petitioners to appear.
The second look at the contract re Verizon leasing space in the Center Street parking structure saw some repetition of the petty nitpicking which had occurred in the first consideration, but the contract was approved this time, unanimously.
Oh, yes. They talked about the Rat Problem.
The synopsis/minutes of the meeting show a split vote re some Traffic Committee resolutions, but I was on my way to bed by then. I'll check the video to determine what, if anything, my readers need to know about that.
Frank Versagi is the editor of Versagi Voice.