Ten months after a City Council committee tabled a controversial law that opponents say would hamper and possibly eliminate many of Chicago's independent concert promoters, a revised draft has been circulated to Aldermen and made public by a local advocacy group, which charges that little has been done to address its fundamental problems.
The Chicago Music Commission "believes the ordinance as drafted is not necessary to achieve the city's stated goals of seeing a more transparent and accountable promoter industry in Chicago," according to a statement posted on the group's Web site, along with a version of the revised law dated Jan. 6 but not yet made public by the city.
"If the ordinance becomes law, it will create unworkable burdens for many small and young music promoters in Chicago, pressuring a key component of the vibrant Chicago music community instead of supporting and fostering its growth," the CMC statement added.
The so-called event promoters ordinance originally was introduced to the City Council License Committee in June 2007 by the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing at the request of Mayor Daley. Officials said it was a reaction, four years after the fact, to the disaster at the E-2 nightclub which claimed 21 lives in 2003, even though that tragedy was as much a problem of the venue as the promoter.
In May 2008, the license committee approved the ordinance, but it was tabled before coming to a vote in the full council after an unprecedented outcry from the music community, which was outraged that the city had not sought input from musicians, club and theater owners, promoters or music fans.
"You don't want to have a burden on the event promoters. But, at the same time, they have a responsibility to protect the people," Daley said when defending the ordinance at that time. He and other city officials vowed to work closely with the local music scene to revise the law and address concerns before another vote.
Yet despite a handful of meetings with music advocates and local promoters over the last year, the revised law still would place what CMC and other advocates call unreasonable burdens on small promoters, who would have to register with and be fingerprinted by the city, pay a two-year license fee ranging from $500 to $2,000 and obtain $300,000 in liability insurance--even if they are working with an established venue already licensed by the city, subject to inspections by numerous departments and carrying its own liability insurance.
Sources say the licensing committee was set to vote on the revised law on March 11. But Robert Rawls, a spokesman for committee chairman Ald. Gene Schulter (47th) said on Thursday that the ordinance is not on the agenda for the upcoming meeting, and that "Alderman Schulter feels that more work needs to be done and does not know when this issue will be brought before the committee for a public hearing."
Rawls did not respond to a request for comment about the CMC's statements or publication of the revised ordinance on Tuesday.
"We were able to obtain a copy of what we believe is the current ordinance," CMC board member Dan Lurie said. "[City officials] have indicated to us that they're not ready to share, but we thought it was important enough to get up [on our Web site] in the interest of disclosure."
Although a few exemptions have been written into the law since it was first introduced--including some sparing promoters who work without compensation or who run one-off benefit concerts--it still has a broad definition of independently promoted events that would include hundreds of concerts or dance nights that take place each month across the city at well-respected venues such as Metro, the Empty Bottle, Schubas, the Hideout, Reggie's, Martyr's, the Abbey Pub and many others.
In a letter to Schulter, other council members and Mary Lou Eisenhauer, acting director of the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing, the CMC contends that "other, less burdensome means are currently available to address public safety and accountability concerns"; that more research needs to be done to define alleged problems caused by indie promoters (the city has not cited any statistics), and that the music community should be included in the process of drafting any legislation.
"Instead of first seeking to impose a top-down, costly, untested license the city should instead pursue an extensive outreach effort to better understand the community it is seeking to regulate," the CMC's letter states. "As the world looks anew at our city in its bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, and as we as a city struggle to weather the economic storm, CMC and the Chicago music community, including the promoters who help make Chicago music a world-class resource, want to see responsible, safe promotion of Chicago music."
Rather than the costly license process and the additional insurance burden, which would drive many small promoters out of business, the CMC proposes that the city institute a simple registry for independent promoters working at PPA- (Public Place of Amusement) licensed venues.
"The vast majority of people in the music community are law-abiding business people who are operating on very thin profit margins and who are looking to just stay afloat in this economic climate," CMC board member Lurie said. "They're not looking to cause trouble, and they play by the rules. If there are problems out there, we're suggesting that there be some kind of collaborative effort between the city and the music community to address the problems together."