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Nightlife Businesses Make Presence Felt at City Hall

Atlanta leaders delay nuisance ordinance vote after Black and minority-owned venue owners speak out on the issue.

Supporters of Atlanta’s nightlife gathered outside City Hall on Monday in protest of a proposed ordinance that calls for the closure of nuisance properties. (Kenya Hunter/Capital B)

On 26 separate occasions since late March, Our Bar ATL reached out to the Atlanta Police Department for help. The business owners were looking to hire off-duty police officers to provide safety and security for their patrons, according to Sarah Oak Kim, co-owner of the bar on Edgewood Avenue in Downtown.

As Kim addressed the Atlanta City Council on Aug. 1, she laid out how difficult it has been to retain reliable officers ready to deal with the unpredictability of the nightlife scene.

“Out of the last 26 times, two times the officer left without notice,” Kim said. “Six times the officer no-call, no-showed, and five times the officer was late by 20 minutes or more. The last four times, there were simply no officers available or willing.”

It’s for this reason, Kim says, that at some point small-business owners cannot be held responsible for crimes committed by patrons and others that are out of their control. 

“What happens when we ask a rowdy patron to leave our establishment and he goes back to his car upset to retrieve a gun,” Kim said. “That is a very realistic scenario for not only our business but every drinking business across the city. We appreciate the ordinance, but at what point does the responsibility become the individual’s rather than the businesses who have done everything they can on their end?”

Kim’s message resonated with the dozens of business owners who filled the chamber’s auditorium to add their voices to the two-year conversation on the proposed update to the city’s current nuisance ordinance.

The discussion surrounding the city’s nuisance properties has been ongoing since former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration. Back in 2020, Bottoms moved to strengthen the policy by establishing a cross-departmental group to streamline the city’s response and empowering the city’s overall ability to remove or revoke alcohol licenses for nuisance violations. 

In May, the City Council introduced an amendment to the current ordinance in conjunction with Mayor Andre Dickens’ new nightlife crime division. The update calls for the city to close a business or residential property that is deemed a nuisance by the municipal court twice in 24 months. It’s a faster remedy than the current six-step process that calls for a lengthy collaboration between the city, the municipal court, and APD.

Atlanta City Solicitor Raines Carter said that his office has identified 70 nuisance properties and has filed more than 10 complaints and temporary protection orders for immediate closures of two businesses. “We are actively working with the district attorney’s office to seize repeat offender properties,” he previously said.

Johnny Mims, president of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive Merchants Association, spoke in front of the council, sharing his continued concerns about the ordinance. Mims said the amendment will have an immediate effect on nightlife and “weaponizes” developers in Atlanta’s Black communities. 

“This will give these investors another tool to push Black people out of their homes,” Mims said. “It’s wrong in so many ways, and I encourage this to be sent back to committee to give us what our mayor has promised us with this new nightlife division.”

Mims said he wants the city to work with owners, who are proud of their city, and want to generate income for the nightlife industry. 

“This legislation is vague and will affect us in so many different ways,” he said. “Give us the opportunity to weigh in with you all because you never hear the good things these people are doing to keep their businesses. We’re not saying it’s not needed, but it does need some changes.”

Concern was also voiced by Atlanta rappers Michael “Killer Mike” Render and Tauheed “2 Chainz” Epps, both small-business owners, stating that if passed, the ordinance will close the window of opportunity for locally owned businesses to grow, while larger vendors like Hard Rock Cafe and Hooters face no consequences or threat under the proposal. 

“Someone is going to have a nightlife here,” Render said. “The question starts to become: Are we going to keep Atlanta a place where local people can grow and thrive?”

Render, who owns and operates The Swag Shop, a modern-take on the classic barbershop located in Downtown — just blocks away from Our Bar ATL — says that if lost, Atlanta’s nightlife and small-business sector will no longer be represented by owners that reflect the communities they’re in. 

“This is one of the only cities where entertainers and athletes have formed a business class,” Render said. “I’m saying to every City Council person right now, when you come around and you need donations and votes, you come to these singers, dancers, and club owners for help, and we obliged you. Do the right thing and send this back to the committee.”

Ultimately, the council moved to delay the vote on the ordinance update, and will address the amendment in two weeks on Aug. 15.