A few bad apples, an aggravated police force and two overzealous city councilmen are to blame for the recently introduced “promoter bill,” which threatens to choke party planners in bureaucratic red tape and cripple Philly’s nightlife. Councilman Bill Greenlee, the bill’s author, says he introduced the now 3-week-old proposal in response to a few wild parties and the cries of an overstretched Police Department.
The councilman cites the Jan. 29 birthday party for 76ers’ guard Andre Iguodala at Table 31 in the Comcast Center as one of many incidents that led to the creation of the legislation. The event was over-sold by 2,000 tickets and stretched police resources, spurring complaints from officers who felt ill-prepared and who called for change of protocol.
Greenlee also fingered Coo’s Sports Bar & Lounge at Broad and Parrish streets, where, in late February, a shooting broke out, injuring four.
These incidents sparked outrage from the police officers who, according to Greenlee, were the first to take issue with Philadelphia promoters.
“The promoters don’t seem to acknowledge there’s any problem,” says Greenlee, whose bill mimics party-promoter measures in San Francisco and Chicago.
As it currently reads, the bill, which resembles the school-age practice of punishing the lot because of the wrongdoings of a few, would require promoters to submit an application 30 days before an event, and the city reserves the right to repeal that license within 10 days of the event.
Now, the outrage is coming from party promoters and other nightlife insiders who say this widely hated piece of legislation is bad business for tourism and for the cultural landscape of the city.
“I am nervous about the arts and culture, music, everything bringing the city of Philadelphia alive over the last 10 years,” says Brian Nagle, founder and president of Philly2night, an online events forum that connects consumers with popular venues. “It’s not worth my time to submit an event permit and then find out five days before that it’s been denied. For Philly2night and a lot of promoters, we usually spend—for a smaller event—three to four weeks to do an event. We’re already planning the New Year. There could be as much as $100,000 on the line. If it gets denied … that’s a lot of money to lose and could bankrupt a business.”
Nagle, who works with most major bars and restaurants in the city on a regular basis, says he’s been studying the promoter bill since its introduction and thinks the term “promoter” is too vague. “It seems like everybody and anybody that’s not the city of Philadelphia—that’s not a political committee or a nonprofit—is considered a promoter.”
Nagle describes “promoter” as an umbrella term that includes a wide range of individuals, such as theater groups, artists, nonprofit organizations and fundraisers. “In the ’60s, rock ’n’ roll would’ve never made it in this city (with this bill),” says Nagle, who intends on taking his business out of Philadelphia if the bill passes.
But Greenlee argues that it’s the parties-gone-wild that pose the biggest threat to the city, not the bill. “I don’t think it’s good for tourists—if they were down on JFK Boulevard the night a riot broke out outside the Comcast Center. If it can happen at Table 31, it can happen anywhere, and … that’s not good for the city.”
The bill’s co-sponsor, Councilman Darrell Clarke, says the issue came up because “a number of events happened in establishments and some unruly situations.” He adds: “The establishment person was basically absolved of any responsibility.”
It’s all about accountability, according to Clarke. “The establishment person says, ‘I turned my place over to the promoter, so I’m not culpable.’ That’s how it then morphed into a bill dealing with promoters … we realized there were really no regulations established for promoters.”
As PW reported last week, the backlash against the bill has been severe, and now Clarke, whose 5th District includes Silk City, the Walnut Room, Johnny Brenda’s and many other party spots, says that Council is working on narrowing the scope of the bill to only target the most troublesome party-throwers.
But in a city where professional party planners aren’t the only ones promoting events, the definition of “troublesome” could get murky. One example of an unlikely “promoter” is the city’s own Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP regularly rents out its union hall for weddings and events, many of which can get out of hand.
“Conceivably, they could be a promoter,” Clarke says of the FOP.
“It’s their establishment, and if there is illegal activity or some code violation, then they would have to be responsible. I don’t think they’re any different from anyone else.”
The bill also threatens to affect PW’s summer jam series, Concerts in the Park.
If Council passes the bill before its summer break, the bill would go into effect in the fall.
As it stands, the bill proposed by Councilmen Bill Greenlee and Darrell Clarke in late April is as unclear as it is nonsensical.