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‘Pay to Cabaret’ sparks public comment

February 16, 2012

by Nathan J Stone

If you think that karaoke at your favorite bar or live entertainment at your preferred coffee house is a given, think again – the landscape of live local entertainment may be changing.

Planning meeting of Albany Common Council/ Nathan J Stone

The Planning, Economic Development and Land Use  Committee of the Albany Common Council met Wednesday evening to discuss a proposed amendment to the city’s zoning code, which would allow collection of licensing fees of up to $900 from any tavern, restaurant, or establishment providing “amplified entertainment” of three or more persons, with a yearly requirement to renew.

The proposal was reintroduced followed by an extended pubic comment session which included nine people.

The amendment, entitled “entertainment licensing,” has sparked a flurry of debate on social media outlets and Albany blogs, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the council or its majority leader Daniel Herring.

“Lots of discussion on emails and on Facebook and other media sites” from different businesses about the nuances of this proposal has led the committee to take another look at the fee structure and come up with a different proposal, Herring said.

Under the old proposal, businesses could be charged a yearly fee of between $300 and $900 for providing “live amplified entertainment” depending on the capacity levels each establishment could hold.  In an attempt to promote good business in the city of Albany, a compromise of sorts was reached.

The new proposal would require a fee from establishments that “play music or other audio through a central audio system, including a juke box,” or from places where there is a performance “by three or more people inside said establishment.” Proprietors would be charged $150 annually for a capacity of 150; $200 for 151 to 300 persons; and $300 for 301 to 500 persons. Locales with a capacity of 500 or more pay a $500 fee.

Herring said the proposal also included a scalable rate for coffee houses providing “acoustic” entertainment at $50 for a full year, and that licensing for up to two dates in the same calendar year could be applied for $50 up to and including  300 persons, and $100 in excess of this capacity.  Religious organizations would be exempt from this license if they were performing “every day normal services,” but Herring said that “fundraisers [and extra curricular activities] would require a permit.”

The new proposal did not seem to sit well with the public.

Michael Kohn, who is also know by his karaoke stage name of ‘Sid Stein’, regularly performs at Elda’s on Lark and Pintos and Hobbs, and questioned the logic behind implementing a licensing fee that would in effect force tavern owners to charge an entrance fee to help offset the new cost.  Kohn said he recognized the law was designed to “shut down trouble” but he also said there are social benefits to the service he provides.  “With karaoke, people work their frustrations out and leave happy…people are going to go elsewhere.”

Marion Anderson, community advocate/ Nathan J Stone

Others were not so fast to denounce the proposal.  Marlon Anderson, who brands himself a community advocate and consultant, lives in Arbor Hill and said he sees the benefit of the proposal.  “The amount of money that these bars are making, the amount that the city is asking- and [them] raising hell over it- it’s really sad,” he said, adding that in this “bar friendly town…and they are [making] millions of dollars.  You have to give a little to get a little.”

No decision was rendered after the public comment session.

Still, the idea of the proposed amendment generated a lot of opposition from those business owners who attended the forum.

Just ask Eric Halder, guitarist and lead singer of local outfit and long-time circuit participant, Charmboy, what he believes is fundamentally at stake here.

“”The coffee shops, the bars,” said Halder, “these places bring in all kinds of talent with their open mic nights, which bring in a lot more people.  [These places] just won’t have them anymore.”  He was starkly prophetic about the future of the Albany scene.   “Just walk around Troy, see the culture and how they welcome live entertainment.  People will just starting going there.”

The proposal will be reconsidered at a future committee meeting. -30-

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