City-parish government is reaching out to a national expert on entertainment districts in the ongoing discussion of whether to do away with the 13-year-old ban on new bars in downtown Lafayette.
The City-Parish Council in January asked the Zoning Commission to research allowing bars as a “conditional” use downtown, meaning any new bar would need to meet certain requirements, but there has yet to be any consensus on the specifics.
The issue is expected to be explored in detail at a Tuesday public forum featuring Jim Peters, whose California-based Responsible Hospitality Institute has consulted with cities across the country on nurturing and managing entertainment districts.
The forum is set for 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Warehouse 535 on Garfield Street.
Peters spoke briefly at Monday’s Zoning Commission meeting.
He offered no easy solutions, saying he needs to learn the particular issues facing Lafayette and hear from locals about possible solutions.
But Peters generally dismissed the idea that a ban on new bars is effective.
A moratorium on new bars can work to ensure bad businesses stay open while keeping out progressive entrepreneurs, he said.
Peters spoke less about strict limits on the number of bars and more about exploring the causes and solutions for particular problems: noise, littering, drunkenness, public urination, crime.
“What are the specific behaviors that you find problematic, and why do they exist?” he asked.
The council imposed the ban on new downtown bars in 2003, fearing Jefferson Street might become Lafayette’s version of Bourbon Street.
Only downtown properties with bar permits when the ban passed can continue to be used as bars, but there has been rising criticism that the ban has had the unintended consequence of stifling the development of a more vibrant entertainment district.
It can be a delicate balancing act, Peters told Zoning Commission members on Monday, an attempt to “maintain vibrancy before it moves into chaos.”
Peters’ visit comes after city-parish government sponsored a series of public meetings earlier this year on the possibility of lifting the bar ban.
Ideas that emerged from those meetings include limiting large “megabars,” carving out a special allowance for “music and heritage centers,” capping bar occupancy at 250 people or less, requiring proposed bars to lay out detailed business plans and making nightclubs follow new guidelines on noise, litter, security and other factors.
Serious talk of revisiting the 2003 bar ban began last year when the popular downtown music venue Artmosphere Bistro faced possible closure.
Artmosphere, which is not eligible for a bar permit because of the 2003 ban, sells alcohol under a restaurant liquor permit but has struggled to meet the requirement of keeping food sales above 50 percent of its revenue.