(Jan. 31, 2014) The city is considering an amendment to its ordinance governing under-21 nightclubs that will allow the facilities to extend their hours for certain events, but only with the express permission of the Mayor and City Council.
The move would come as a result of a request by Epic Brands, the promoter staging cheerleading competitions at the convention center several times each year.
“They have a problem that, because the event has gotten so big and runs so late, many of the participants don’t get down to H2O to enjoy the after-party,” said Mayor Rick Meehan.
H2O, located on Worcester Street, is an under-21 venue that enjoys considerable summertime popularity. However, such establishments are heavily regulated by city code, where they are referred to as “dry nightclubs.”
“Our code for underage nightclubs puts a closing time of 12:45 [a.m.],” Meehan said. “They would like that extended to 1:45 for Feb. 22, March 15, and April 9.”
City Solicitor Guy Ayres suggested that the best avenue would be to amend the code to add a provision allowing for later hours by request.
Due to the city’s past issues with such venues, some were cautious of creating any opportunity that could be leveraged for later hours.
“One of the reasons we have those hours is because it was getting out of hand,” said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas. “We had a long discussion on limiting the hours for these young people. Now what stops the owners of the club to say ‘can we have July 4 for some other group of kids,’ or ‘can we have this date and that date because of this?’”
“There wouldn’t be anything stopping them from coming to you and requesting other dates,” Ayres said. “If there were other events you thought were worthwhile and they came to you to pitch as to why they wanted to add hours, then you could decide on approving each request.”
The city’s code on dry nightclubs – Chapter 14, Article VII – was adopted in 2001 as part of a crackdown on what the city found to be widespread illicit behavior in underage establishments.
Most importantly, the code specifies that any business license granted under the dry nightclub definition can only admit patrons age 15 and over. Further, if patrons 21 and over are admitted, then no one ages 15-20 may be admitted simultaneously.
This mutually exclusive age separation combats the city’s stated findings, per the code, that “dry nightclubs provide an arena for predatory-type sexual crimes.”
Thee code goes so far as specify – in great detail – what parts of their bodies patrons may and may not expose, and prohibits “contests, exhibitions, shows or demonstrations involving the display of the human body in such a manner as to titillate, excite or entertain the patrons or to promote any type of goods or services.”
However, the parties thrown by Epic Brands would most certainly be free of such concerns, given that they are exclusive to a single event and take place in the off-season.
“I understand what Margaret is saying,” Meehan said. “I think it’s good to keep it on a case-by-case basis where the council can make that decision. I wouldn’t even have brought it up if they were asking for the middle of August, but this is February, March, and April.”
Council voted, with Pillas and Councilman Brent Ashley opposed, to have Ayres draft an amendment to allow extended hours by request.