The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday opened the door to revisiting the 12-year-old ban on new bars in downtown Lafayette.
The council unanimously approved a resolution asking the City-Parish Zoning Commission to research allowing bars as a “conditional” use downtown, meaning any new bar would need to meet certain requirements and to secure approval from the Zoning Commission and the council.
The resolution does not lay out specifics, but City-Parish Councilman Bruce Conque has said one option is to carve out an exception for what he called a “hybrid” entertainment venue that, among other things, would offer a minimum amount of live music.
Conque and Councilman Pat Lewis pushed the measure.
Tuesday’s vote is “that initial step to having a truly vibrant hospitality district,” Conque said.
The ban on new bars downtown has been in place since 2003, prompted by concerns at the time that a string of new night spots popping up along Jefferson Street was turning the area into a local version of Bourbon Street.
Only downtown properties with bar permits when the ban passed in 2003 can continue to operate as bars.
Protecting bar permits for a set number of locations downtown might have had the unintended effect of giving a monopoly to a limited number of businesses, said Pat Trahan, chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, which supports revisiting the ban.
“It really protects bad operators from good competitors,” Trahan told the council.
Trahan said the hope is to craft a set of yet-to-be-determined requirements that any bar owner must agree to as a condition of securing a permit.
He said the bar ban was never meant to be permanent; rather, it was a temporary measure to give the city time to explore how best to deal with the spate of bars moving in along Jefferson Street more than a decade ago.
“It was put in place just to slow the train down,” he said.
Talk of revisiting the ban began last year, sparked, in part, by the predicament of Artmosphere Bistro.
The popular downtown music venue has struggled to keep food sales above 50 percent — a requirement to keep selling alcohol under its restaurant liquor permit — and the business is not eligible for a bar permit because of the 2003 ban.
Artmosphere owner Beryl Kemp, two of her employees and a handful of her customers spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting in favor of revisiting the bar ban.
Kemp said the issue is bigger than Artmosphere, and she said the ban is “holding back the potential for new places with new concepts.”
“I think, sadly, if we don’t take this first step, people will find other places to go,” she said.
The only member of the public at the meeting to question the reconsideration of the ban was Frank Randol, who owns Randol’s Restaurant in Lafayette and also owns property downtown.
“It’s nice to have urban living, but it has to be family oriented,” he said.
Any change in the regulations on bars in downtown Lafayette would need the approval of the Zoning Commission and the City-Parish Council.
“That conversation will be held in public, and it will be very transparent,” Conque said.