April 19, 2017 9:53:00 AM
Columbus City Council eased a trio of restrictions on two local businesses and the Columbus Fairgrounds during Tuesday's regular meeting.
Councilmen granted The Princess nightclub the latitude to close at midnight and the O-Kay Foods convenience store in north Columbus support for closing at 8 p.m. They also lifted a moratorium restricting serving alcohol at Fairgrounds events.
Shootings have occurred at or near all three locations within the past six months.
Local attorney Mark Jackson, representing The Princess Theater owner Bart Lawrence, asked councilmen to consider allowing the downtown establishment to push its closing time back two hours from a self-imposed 10 p.m. close.
Lawrence voluntarily implemented the early close after an early morning shooting on March 19. After the shooting, as city officials mulled using an ordinance to force early closing hours for The Princess, Lawrence cut the operating hours from 1:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. He also closed the theater portion of The Princess, slashing the club's capacity from 488 people to 163.
At Tuesday's meeting, Jackson suggested the council allow Lawrence to move the closing time to midnight. He said the crowds The Princess drew were the source of issues, rather than being open late.
Improved security measures, such as a heightened police presence and the installation of brighter lights near The Princess, along with the reduction in capacity should help solve matters, Jackson said.
"The issues that were being called in to that area didn't affect the trivia nights or the nights where they were having karaoke or things like that," Jackson said. "Any time anything happened, it was all around Friday and Saturday evenings when the club was open. We believe we've addressed that by closing the theater and there is no plan at this time to reopen the theater."
Jackson asked the council to allow The Princess to open at midnight for eight weeks and, if no problems arise in that period, to let the restaurant return to its regular 1:30 a.m. closing time.
Mayor Robert Smith, who said he and City Attorney Jeff Turnage, Police Chief Oscar Lewis and Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong met with Jackson and Lawrence to discuss the proposal, expressed support.
"I think if both sides work together as promised, I think we'll see a big difference," Smith said. "I would suggest that we adhere to Mr. Lawrence's and Mr. Jackson's request."
No vote was required, since Lawrence voluntarily imposed the hour restrictions, but no councilman objected to the proposal.
The council similarly gave the nod to the O-Kay Foods convenience store, located at 1801 Seventh Ave. N., to adjust its hours.
Store owner Mutee Nagi, facing pressure from city leadership after a March 21 shooting inside the store, agreed to change the store's closing from 11 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The shooting sent two men to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle. One victim was later airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Police have arrested Justin Williams, 26, and Leronn Gregory, 25, for their suspected roles in the shootings.
O-Kay Foods is located in Ward 5, and Councilman Stephen Jones, who represents that ward, suggested the council allow Nagi to push his closing time back. The action, like with The Princess, did not require a vote.
"I've worked with Mr. Nagi and been to his store several times," Jones said. "He's done everything we've asked. He's worked with us and he seems to be satisfied that everything is working out fine."
The council also unanimously voted to lift a moratorium imposed on events at the Fairgrounds that serve alcohol.
City officials imposed the moratorium in January after 25-year-old Jeremy Wells was shot in the Fairgrounds parking lot during a Dec. 26 private party. Columbus Fair and Livestock Association manager Jane Jordan had not applied for an event permit before the party. City ordinance requires a permit for any event where more than 100 people are expected to attend and where alcohol will be served.
Jackson resubmitted a proposal he'd presented to the council in February on heightened security measures in place at the Fairgrounds. The council originally tabled the proposal and requested that Jackson let local law enforcement officials review it.
The proposal includes stiffened security, camera installations and improved communication with the police department. It also calls for the Fairgrounds to close at 1:30 a.m., with security to remain until 2 a.m. to ensure the premises have been cleared.
Jackson said he's spoken with Lewis, Lowndes County Sheriff Mike Arledge, CPD narcotics officer Anthony Nelson and Archie Williams, commander of a joint city-county task force about the proposal.
"Everybody was in agreement that this would be a huge help to law enforcement moving forward," Jackson said. "They were all very satisfied. As a matter of fact, everybody I spoke with said they felt like we've gone beyond what their expectations were for security as far as cameras and lighting."
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