Seattle nightclub owners have ally at City Hall
Mayor Mike McGinn's initiative to tackle the persistent problem of nightclub noise and violence got the backing of the Nightlife and Music Association, whose members have developed a close working relationship with the new mayor.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Six months before Mayor Mike McGinn unveiled his proposal to let bars stay open past 2 a.m., the Washington State Liquor Control Board heard much the same pitch — from a group of Seattle nightclub owners.
Eight members of the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association met with Liquor Control Board staff in January. They were told the state might consider extending the hours that alcohol can be served if club owners could show public support for the idea.
This week, McGinn launched his initiative to tackle the persistent problem of nightclub noise and violence, including lifting the 2 a.m. cap on serving alcohol — a top goal of the Nightlife and Music Association, whose members have developed a close working relationship with the new mayor.
Leaders of the group contributed to McGinn's campaign, records show, sponsored a fundraiser for him in September and now meet regularly with him.
The association says it believes Seattle would be much better off if it let the market dictate when bars close — saving police and neighborhoods from the flood of patrons who spill out onto city streets after the mandatory 2 a.m. last call.
At a Capitol Hill club, McGinn said on Tuesday that "flexible liquor service hours" could ease public-safety problems at closing time. "Having hundreds of people on the street at 2 a.m. is not conducive to a peaceful community."
The club owners in attendance were quick to praise the initiative and emphasized their industry's role in the city's economy.
"It's a great example of how government can help solve problems when there's a leader that thinks progressively and brings all parties together," said Dave Meinert, former president of the association and a part-owner of the Five Point Café.
But some neighborhood activists said Wednesday they felt left out of the process.
Richard Nordstrom, president of the Belltown Community Council, said his group met with the mayor's staff Monday, the day before the mayor's announcement. It seemed as if the initiative was a done deal, Nordstrom said.
The meeting "took on a sense of, 'Oh, we have to talk to communities. Let's bring them in and check our box. OK, we're done,' " Nordstrom said.
The mayor's office also met with a representative from the Alliance for Pioneer Square, as well as some business and human-services groups.
"I was a community council president and worked for years on community issues as well," McGinn said Wednesday. "This is the start of a process, not the end of a process."
The mayor said he intends to meet with neighborhood groups and community councils across the city to hear how residents and business owners feel about the initiative. McGinn's office is also seeking community feedback through an online survey.
McGinn says his initiative lays out eight ways the city can better work with clubs and be more responsive to surrounding neighbors. In addition to flexible bar closing times, it proposes better code enforcement, a new noise-reduction ordinance, mandatory training for bar security, regular meetings between nightlife businesses and neighbors, professional development for bar employees, more late-night taxi and bus service, and public-nuisance rules to help police crack down on unruly patrons.
But when it comes to extending serving hours, the state Liquor Control Board staff says it has been collecting various studies from around the world on the issue. Some of those suggest that extending hours can lead to more alcohol consumption, more drunken driving and other "alcohol-related violence and disturbances."
Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Liquor Control Board, said the agency would need to see evidence to the contrary before changing state rules.
McGinn has been aware of the club owners' issues for some time. During his run for office last year, he said he thought former Mayor Greg Nickels had taken too punitive an approach to cutting down on violence and noise problems associated with nightlife. McGinn proposed staggering bar closing hours to avoid the 2 a.m. closing-time release onto the streets.
During his campaign, dozens of musicians and nightclub owners gave to McGinn's campaign. Seven of the nine board members of the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association together contributed more than $2,200.
Jason Lajeunesse, who owns Neumo's and is a member of the board, gave $350 to McGinn's campaign. McGinn has referred to the Nightlife Association as "partners" in forming his nightlife proposal.
Nordstrom, of the Belltown Community Council, said the nightclub industry is having its way with city officials.
"There's truly a deregulation process going on here," he said, questioning why nightlife should "be the savior of Seattle's economy."
As for nightclub owners, they see the mayor's move as proof the city is finally tuning into an issue they've been advocating for a long time.
Pete Hanning, president of the Nightclub Association and owner of the Red Door in Fremont, said "there's nothing wrong with me wanting to extend my hours and increase my sales."
The revenue ends up benefiting the city and state, he said, because it increases the various taxes he pays.
"I'm in the hospitality industry," he said. "I want to try at my level best to give my guests what they want to purchase. And I want to do it safely and legally."
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com
Information in this article, originally published (July 15, 2010), was corrected (July 16, 2010). HG Lodge owner Marcus Lalario was paid $2,000 by Mayor Mike McGinn's office fund for a party at his club. A story in Thursday's paper said the money was a d
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.