Greensboro Leaders, Owners Conflicted About New Security Ordinance

Jan 16, 2015

Late last year, a man was stabbed in the neck at a lounge near UNC-Greensboro. Another person was killed when shots were exchanged outside of a downtown nightclub.

  Elected officials in Greensboro are working to create a security ordinance for entertainment venues.

Calls for new regulations came after several violent incidents at nightclubs in recent months.  Late last year, a man was stabbed in the neck at a lounge near UNC-Greensboro. Another person was killed when shots were exchanged outside of a downtown nightclub.

Many local leaders, owners and patrons agree something needs to be done. New rules would require establishments to have off-duty police officers outside. But, business owners are pushing back against some proposed new rules they see as excessive and expensive.

"The City Council in Greensboro loves to do knee-jerk reactions without really, fully looking at the ramifications of what they've just done and how it will affect all business owners... but at least, on this issue, they seem to be listening to us and taking our concerns," said Drew Wofford, owner of Chemistry, a gay bar in Greensboro.

Under this ordinance he could be required to have two armed off-duty police officers outside his establishment. It's a mandate that he thinks might deter customers and put him out of business.

Chemistry clears $2,000 on a really good night. After trivia Monday night, Wofford deposited $47. Cost is a major concern and a point of contention with this ordinance.

"You know, we're looking at spending right around the same amount for the armed off-duty officers as we do for rent, which I think it absolutely ludicrous," added Jason Ferguson, who owns a nearby bar popular with college students.

"If I were a business owner I would voice that very same concern," said Anita Holder, the interim Chief of Police.

"It can be expensive and what we've tried to do from the police department's standpoint is to look at actual measures that could make the environment more secure and safe."

Chemistry is a bar and club, with a dance floor, DJ, and weekly drag shows. Owners at this establishment, and others, say new proposed regulations are unnecessary and costly.
Credit Drew Wofford

Those measures might include video cameras to monitor who's coming and going, ID scanners to more easily ban troublemakers and hand-held metal detectors to keep weapons out. Holder says this would cut down on 911 calls.

Each week  the department currently gets dozens of calls from local entertainment venues. Some business folks say the push for this ordinance is about more than money.

Changing demographics

"I think it has everything to do with ethnicity," Eric Robert said. He has an even space in the city. Robert sees entertainment venues as a vibrant part of the city.
 

'As far as I'm concerned, no council member has accused another one of having racial overtones in this discussion. So that should be off the table.'

  "You know the moment downtown came back to life, and became a little cooler and you could push away the undesirables. You had a whole different clientele that started moving in. They started moving in from the suburbs and they liked it quiet, and they liked it white."

The man leading the effort to pass this ordinance is City Councilman Zack Matheny. He disagrees there is a racial component.

"I've heard that from one person. I mean, As far as I'm concerned, no council member has accused another one of having racial overtones in this discussion. So that should be off the table."

As Greensboro's downtown population has expanded in recent years, the city council has passed a noise ordinance in response to complaints about roof top bars. Then, came a teen curfew. Some say these are all efforts to control the downtown clientele. Others say it's about striking a balance.

"We've got tremendous more, thousands of more residential units coming on line that people are going to being living downtown. Hopefully we're going to get more restaurants downtown. We've got to figure out how to work, live and play together and that's growing pains sometimes."

Matheny and the city council need to decide which venues will fall under the ordinance, explain why certain ones are exempt, and develop an appeals process. He says their goal is to develop a measure that is good for businesses and safety. A final version of the ordinance is likely to be adopted in early February.