Well, it only took 84 minutes for Efrat Dallal Stein, the spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs & Licensing, to respond to my request for an interview with acting director Mary Lou Eisenhauer, a driving force behind the promoter’s ordinance. Eisenhauer was out of town, but Stein said she was prepared to address all of my questions and speak publicly on the proposed law, scheduled for a City Council vote on Wednesday.
The interview with DBA’s Stein follows the jump. I’m still waiting for the return call from Ald. Schulter, author of the ordinance.
Q. The Chicago Music Commission has written a letter to Ald. Schulter and DBA saying they don’t feel like they had input into this new version of the ordinance…
A. The Chicago Music Commission did testify at the committee meeting on the 7th.
Q. Yes, I know. But their letter states that they only had four days to review this law. It would certainly seem as if there’s a rush to get this passed. It’s been five years since the E2 tragedy; why the rush now?
A. Absolutely not, there is no rush to get this through committee. I think that this particular ordinance has moved extremely slow through the process. Since July of ’07, that was the last time the committee met on this, there have been several meetings with the industry, people from the music industry, the venue industry, to really craft an ordinance that took into consideration all of the input that was given from the industry from the last committee meeting. I think that’s actually quite the opposite, on the contrary of what you’re saying. This ordinance has moved extremely slow, and it’s because of all of the input and consideration that the alderman and the department and the city got from the music industry.
Q. But if you’ve seen the letter from the CMC, they have substantive problems with the ordinance. For example, a local magazine or community radio show that wants to do a monthly “We present our favorite local bands” kind of show, they’re going to have to pay a steep license fee and get this insurance even if they’re working at a club that already has a public performance license and all the other licenses you can imagine: liquor, health, building and safety codes, you name it. And that’s egregious for a lot of small, community-based promoters, and they’re saying it’s going to have a major impact shutting down music in this city. I’ve talked to a dozen people since Wednesday who’ve said, “This is going to have a very bad impact on us, and we don’t feel like we’ve been heard.”
A. A couple of things: I think that with any ordinance, there’s going to be things that cannot accommodate every single person in a particular industry because the range is so large. I think with this particular industry, it’s a growing industry and it is in need of some sort of regulation, just like any other growing industry. I mean, you need a license to sell a T-shirt in the city of Chicago.
Q. But to run a concert venue in the city of Chicago, you’re already subjected to a dozen licenses and hundreds of regulations.
A. The definition of an event promoter, though, you need to be very clear in who is exempt for this. It is not all cases of events that will need a license. There are exemptions to this, and if you are an event promoter who makes a living from marketing events and bringing people in to these events, in order for this industry to thrive and continue to grow, these are some very basic common-sense responsible business practices. The range of fees goes from $500 to $2,000 for a two-year license. The insurance requirement is that you have general liability insurance up to $300,000 per occurrence, which is very low, and it’s basically the same requirement for many other types of business in the city.
Q. I know that, but we’re talking about people who are going to promote an event at a club or venue that already has that insurance.
A. Not all the time. It depends on where the club is and what it is
Q. But promoters are saying to me that the law as it’s written does not make an exception between “I want to hold a dance party in a warehouse” and “I would like to hold a benefit concert for an injured musician at a club that already has met every possible requirement it can meet as a good public venue in this city.” This law doesn’t make that distinction, and it’s going to be voted on Wednesday by the City Council without people having the chance to tell their elected officials that’s the case. People are very upset about this, if you’ve read any of the blogging.
A. I have, and you know, Jim, I think that the input from the blogging is important. I just hope that the information through blogs is accurate.
Q. Well, I try to be thorough as a reporter, so I posted the whole law as it is currently proposed. That’s as accurate as you can get.
A. I know, but they don’t read it. People want to take the parts that they don’t like.
Q. Well, if my synopsis of the Ancient Greek in that ordinance is wrong, I’m happy to hear it.
A. No, no, it’s right. I think one thing is the venue owner needs to contact the police commander; that was one thing that [Sun-Times City Hall reporter] Fran [Spielman] got wrong. It’s the venue owner, not the event promoter, who needs to contact the police commander.
Q. But the question remains: What is the goal of this ordinance?
A. It’s to place a level of responsibility into the hands of event promoters. There have been many examples and incidents where promoters operate with little public safety concerns, and hopefully this ordinance will help to prevent cases of overcrowding and put some sort of responsibility in the hands of promoters to ensure that events run smoothly and safely. Of course, many events already do that.
Q. O.K., but let’s say I’m a 19-year-old college kid at the University of Chicago, and I want to have a legal rave. I know that’s a scary word to the City Council, but if you substitute “sock hop” for “rave,” maybe some of these officials will understand it. So I want to have a legal sock hop/rave at a legitimate venue like Metro…
A. You want to have a sock hop? Back in the day, a sock hop didn’t include many various kinds of drugs and weapons… You talk about a sock hop and a rave, that’s like worlds apart!
Q. No, they’re not, not really. It’s just a cultural bias, and it seems like this ordinance is directed at not having dance parties…
A. This has nothing to do with raves, this has nothing to do with sock hops, this has to do with people running businesses that have no responsibility when they go in and promote an event. Say, for example, the capacity of the venue is 200 people, and they promote it to 1,000 people, and they have 500 people that show up. They have an issue of overcrowding, they have an issue of 500 people who cannot get in who are standing out in front of the venue. The requirements of the audience are actually very simple, and I think that the main thing that people are concerned about is that they have to pay now—they have to pay a license fee, and that is what I’m hearing.
Q. What I’m hearing is people asking, “Why are you imposing these additional difficulties on me as an independent promoter if I’m working with a venue that is already licensed to do this?”
A. The city is legitimizing that the business of event promoter is a business, and that they require a license. I would say that the venue owner is not going to be upset, for the most part.
Q. But I’ve talked to a dozen venue owners who are upset.
A. Well, why is that?
Q. Because they think that this is going to reduce the amount of business. Jam Productions co-founder Jerry Mickelson told the committee on Wednesday that he will have fewer events at the Park West and the Riviera because of this. Other owners of venues from 250 capacity to 1,500 capacity say, “We are going to have fewer events at our venues because of this.” Don’t tell me the promoters are not upset; they are.
A. Look, I just work here… [Laughs]
Q. I know, I’m sorry…
A. Look, this ordinance has taken a long time to develop, and a lot of things have changed from its original format, so I think you need to look at that.
Q. I have. The Chicago Music Commission did a point-by-point comparison with the ordinance as it stands today and the one that existed a year and a half ago. And they are saying, “This is still extremely troublesome,” and many independent promoters are saying the same thing.
A. Is there anything specifically?
Q. Sure. The Chicago Music Commission writes: “The language of the ordinance as drafted unnecessarily and perhaps prohibitively increases the cost of doing business for any promoter seeking to work with PPA-licensed music venues under 500 seats and those without ‘fixed seating,’ including, among many others, Schuba’s, Buddy Guy’s Legends, the Vic Theater, the Riviera Theater, the Metro, the Hideout, Uncommon Ground and Martyrs’. Many of these small and non-fixed seating venues rely on contracting with third party promoters for a significant portion of their revenue while their customers safely enjoy the entertainment. This ordinance will not address the ‘bad actors’ CMC and the City agree are the root of the problem—underground promoters seeking to make a quick buck who put on unsafe events.”
A. Well, like I said, Jim, there have been many examples and incidents where promoters operate with little public safety concern, and this ordinance requires promoters to operate with some very basic, common-sense responsible business practices, and that is what this ordinance is mainly about. It’s about public safety, it’s about legitimizing a growing industry, it’s about licensing a business, just like any other business in the city of Chicago requires a business license, and it creates some very basic guidelines in which they need to operate from.
Q. But the promoters are saying it’s sort of like in order for me to take my car to the garage for repairs, I have to be a mechanic myself. This hurts independent promoters who are working with venues who already have the city approvals and the expertise.
A. Maybe the idea of having a license and having a contract is more intimidating than a particular event may be.
Q. Well, it is when it comes with requirements for insurance and a license fee. And I have to get fingerprinted, and you’re going to do a criminal background check on me, and I have to be over 21 years old. Some of the top promoters in this city were 18 or 19 when they started their businesses.
A. But when they started, the drinking age may not have been 21. The drinking age is 21, and that’s why they made it that way. But not every event is going to require the same things. Not every event requires security. Just because the contract requires that they assign the responsibilities of security, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it requires security. We’re not requiring security; all that we’re requiring is that the event promoter and the venue have guidelines and an agreement, that they’re in understanding of who is responsible for what. You take into consideration capacity, safety, security if needed, any electronic special effects that may come into play, and the fact that they will have insurance. Those are very basic things, and what we’re asking are very basic, common-sense responsible business practices that many of these businesses are already doing. Many of them already operate within a contract.
Q. Well, they have to, by law. The laws are already in existence for that to happen. This law doesn’t make a distinction between whether I’m renting a VFW hall and putting on a concert myself as a promoter, or I’m going to an established venue that deals with events like mine every night of the week. I’m being penalized even though I’m going to an established, licensed business. It seems like the city is charging twice for the same thing; you’ve already got the legitimate venue’s license fee.
A. I hear it. I know. That’s the argument. I hear all the arguments, and I’m taking notes of all the concerns and all the comments, and I will certainly share them with the license committee, and I’m sure we’re all on the Internet reading the concerns of the industry. I hear where you’re coming.
Q. Good, because CMC says point blank: “The ordinance will reduce the amount of music in Chicago, make events more expensive for consumers, dampen the large and growing economic engine that is Chicago music, and create a much less supportive business climate for Chicago’s small music business community.” That’s about as pointed as it gets.
A. Just so you know, the license application process we’re going to make as easy as possible, as convenient as possible, we’re even considering putting it online, and this ordinance doesn’t go into effect for 120 days, so we do plan on doing extensive outreach and just making this as easy as possible for someone to get licensed. Assuming that it passes.
Q. I understand that at Wednesday’s committee meeting, the acting director was uncertain about who would even enforce this law.
A. I would say that typically, the enforcement is the Police Department and the Department of Business Affairs & Licensing.
Q. In the case of E2, which inspired this law, there were numerous city complaints about building and fire code violations, as well as the liquor license, in the months before the tragedy.
A. The reason why something is enforced is because there’s a complaint or there’s a problem. If there’s no complaint and there’s no problem, typically there is no enforcement.
Q. There were numerous complaints about E2, yet the club continued to operate. The existing laws were not enforced.
A. I can’t use that as an example. I’m just giving you the city’s take on enforcement as far as nightclubs, bars, theaters—they operate all the time, 24 hours a day. Usually when there is a specific complaint, like right now there is a shooting, right now there is a fire, right now there is overcrowding—an immediate complaint—then the police will be on the scene and check licensing, or, there have been numerous complaints from the community, and we will do an inspection the night of the event, the Department of Business Affairs. Usually, if a venue operates without problems, if a venue operates within the law, they really have nothing to worry about. In terms of enforcement, the city is not looking to go out and check every licensed venue to see if they’re using a licensed event promoter. We don’t have the resources to do that, and there is no need for that. It’s just like operating a nightclub prior to this ordinance: If there’s a problem, we come out. If we’re out there, we’re gonna check your license. If you’re overcrowded, you’re going to be shut down.
Q. Please, don’t get me wrong: I spend a lot of time in rock clubs. I don’t want to be in an overcrowded club that doesn’t have a panic bar on the door in case there is a fire. No one likes being in an unsafe place. But when I go to a club that already has a PPA license, I know that I’m safe there. And now, when I go to certain events at these clubs, the promoter is going to have to pay on top of the venue paying. It seems like double-dipping.
A. It’s not, because the event promoter can go wherever they choose. It’s a separate business. The city is recognizing this industry as a business that needs to be licensed, and with that comes a fee.
Q. Are people going to have any more say on this law before the vote?
A. I don’t know. I know that there is a City Council meeting Wednesday, and if you reach out to your alderman, if you talk to Ald. Schulter… I really can’t speak to that, I’m not sure. In terms of public hearings, no, because this went through the license committee, and the process is that it will be voted upon at the next meeting on May 14.
Q. So the music community that has these concerns isn’t going to be heard in public again before this law is voted on?
A. No. As of today, the ordinance went through committee and the process is that it will be voted on at the next City Council meeting. Just keep in mind, Jim, that there were three hours of testimony that took place the last time, and Ald. Schulter took every single person’s testimony. I’m talking about July of ’07, and from that time, there have been meetings that took place outside of the City Council chambers, about six meetings, to kind of hash out this ordinance and work through the concerns. You’re saying that no, the industry wasn’t taken into consideration, and I’m disagreeing with you. Remember that in July of ’07, that was a major thing, and then from that time to now, there have been meetings with members of the industry.
Q. I’m sorry, but if I go through my notebook full of complaints in the last few days from people who are major players in the Chicago music community, there are only two conclusions: A.) They didn’t have any input, or B.) The city ignored their input. Because they say there are still serious problems with this ordinance, they’re saying this is going to have a devastating impact, and they don’t feel like they were heard.
A. I understand.