Chattanooga City Council members said they will work with Mayor Andy Berke to better regulate two East Chattanooga event halls where three people have been killed since April.
"It's serious enough it doesn't need to take a lot of time to respond to this," council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem said at Tuesday's council meeting. "Literally people are dying."
Emotion Event Hall on Dodds Avenue, better known to patrons as Da Building, and a hall with no sign at 2510 E. Main St., are under scrutiny since a third person was shot to death July 5. Police have responded to more than a hundred calls between both places since 2010.
Gary Ball, former president of the Ridgedale Community Association, grilled council members during their meeting Tuesday night on what can be done about these facilities.
The Beer and Wrecker Board cannot regulate the event halls because they don't need a beer license under the current law. Traditionally, the beer board monitors businesses that serve alcohol and revokes licenses when there is trouble.
Ball and others will attend the board's meeting today to see if anything can be done, he said.
City officials said the city attorney will research possible solutions this week, including whether new ordinances or zoning requirements are needed.
Council members, however, said they will let Berke take the lead.
"We know it's an issue and we're going to do something about it," said Berke's spokeswoman Lacie Stone.
Dexter Staples, who owns Da Building, said he is trying to run a legitimate business. He doesn't understand the recent campaign to shut him down.
But Ball, who said he's gained support from the local community, said event halls promote underage and excessive drinking. They even "border on nudie clubs," he said.
Councilwoman Carol Berz said the event halls already fall under current city zoning for after-hours establishments.
"It falls under zoning and they should be shut down, legally, under zoning," she said Tuesday night.
City Attorney Phil Noblett said he is still looking into whether current zoning laws apply.
Other officials have their own ideas for how the businesses should be regulated.
Police Chief Bobby Dodd said last week he wants to see all businesses, regardless whether they are bars or event halls, be required by city ordinance to shut down by 3 a.m.
Lindsay Street Hall owner Ken Crisp said a 3 a.m. curfew wouldn't hurt business at his or other legitimate event spaces. The only regulation Crisp worries about is the city requiring owners to acquire a permit each time they serve alcohol at an event.
"It would be a lot of work for good people to do for two places that aren't doing it right," Crisp said.
Councilman Moses Freeman said his only concern with stricter regulations is whether they would hamper the rights of the legitimate event halls in town.
"We have to keep in mind there are a lot of event halls in Chattanooga that do good, raise funds. They host weddings, church events," he said.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...