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Minneapolis considering tighter rules for licensed business ‘scofflaws’

If you operate a business licensed by Minneapolis and violate the rules, the city now has only two options: negotiate an operating agreement or revoke the license.

A case in point was the Envy Nightclub, which got into trouble with license violations involving security during age 18-plus events last summer. The city attempted to negotiate a set of business operating conditions with the club owners to eliminate the violations.

When the owners refused to accept the conditions, the city sent them a notice that their license would be revoked.

Without the owners’ cooperation, revocation was the city’s only option. The owners went out of business, rather than have their license revoked.

Now, there’s a move to amend the ordinance governing business licenses to allow the city to impose operating conditions without owners’ consent. The change was approved Monday by the Regulatory, Energy and Environment Committee.

The vote came after bar and restaurant owners expressed their doubts about how this new tool would function.

“The language is overly broad,” said John Barlow of Epic Entertainment, which brings performers to Minneapolis.

He was not alone in this view. Several commented about the vagueness of standards outlined in the new ordinance that would allow the city to impose new rules.

The ordinance would allow the city to impose conditions to “promote public safety, good order, livability and security.”

Committee Chair Elizabeth Glidden said the wording is meant to give the city flexibility in dealing with business owners who have gone to extremes to operate outside of the rules.

“We support this but with a little bit of trepidation,” said Allen Ackerberg of Parasole Restaurants, which operates Manny’s, Burger Jones and the Uptown Cafeteria.  He told council members that the city already has the tools it needs to deal with problem license-holders.

Less than 1 percent of the business license owners in Minneapolis have operating conditions imposed on them. Some of those conditions are imposed before a license is granted and some occur after violations.

For the city to enter into negotiations over operating conditions, there must be good cause or an ordinance violation.

Typically operating conditions might call for having uniformed security guards, picking up trash on a regular basis, imposing shortened business hours or requiring an identity card reader to verify the age of customers.

Last year, 64 businesses in Minneapolis had conditions imposed. Of those, 57 had general business licenses, two were taxicab operators and five involved alcohol-related businesses.

Business owners were concerned about their ability to compete for customers if their hours were shortened or they were told by the city to hire additional security staff.

“This is not an ordinance for businesses that do one thing wrong,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman. “The only businesses that are impacted are those that thumb their nose at our attempts to get them to comply with the law.”

Beginning last August, the city hosted seven meetings for license holders to discuss the proposed changes. Those meetings attracted 100 business owners and members of business organizations.

The full City Council is expected to vote on the matter Feb. 22.

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