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Independent commission recommends Baltimore club promoters register with the city

The Baltimore Sun

A blue-ribbon commission looking into the events that led to a fatal shooting near a West side club earlier this year has recommended that club promoters register or get licenses with the city.  

“Promoters who overbook venues and often leave long lines of people outside, contribute to the problems of the area” around a club, the panel’s report reads.

The recommendation is one of several the commission made Thursday to curb violence in city clubs, and has broad support from city government, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and police commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.

Promoters have expressed mixed feelings about the provision, with some supporting the rule and others saying it would hurt business.

The independent commission was appointed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake after a shooting in January outside the Select Lounge on the West side. On January 9, a plainclothes policeman, William H. Torbit, responded to a call at the parking lot by the club and fired his weapon in response to an overwhelming crowd, killing a civilian, Sean Gamble. Police officers responding to the melee fired a total of 42 rounds into the crowd, accidentally killing Torbit. State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein declared that the officers would not face criminal charges.

Among its recommendations to curb violence downtown, the commission includes a stipulation that treats promoters like lobbyists, requiring them to register or get licenses with the city to conduct their business.

The commission suggests that would prevent overbooking in the future, which has lead to above-average crowds that police have struggled to control in the past. In February of last year, a Yo Gotti concert at what was then called the Velvet Rope was oversold and hundreds of ticket-holders stormed the venue, attracting some 50 cops and a helicopter to the scene. The club plead guilty to security breaches and paid a $3,500 fine to the Baltimore Liquor Board.

In a statement, Bealefeld supported the promoter rule. Police reported to the commission that venues don’t normally notify law enforcement in advance when a special event that would attract large crowds is held.

On the night of the shooting, an estimated 500 people were outside Select Lounge, according to police estimates. The club had not notified law enforcement a promoter had rented the facility for a private event, according to the commission’s report.

J.R. Hiwot, Select Lounge’s manager, declined to comment.

The commission's promoter rule lacks specifics. It’s not clear if promoters would have to register once or for each event. It’s also not clear if a license would carry a cost.

Ryan O’Doherty, spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said the mayor’s office and police would work together to propose a regulatory framework of Baltimore nightlife, but that it’s too early in the process to offer details.

While promoters say notifying police of a highly commercial event is wise, they are wary about the lack of details in the proposal.

“If the city’s gonna charge someone to get a license, I would be totally be against it,” said Tim Orcutt, owner of Goodlife Boys, which regularly promoters events at venues like Mosaic in the Inner Harbor. “It’s hard enough to make money in this economy.” He also questions the practicality of having a database of promoters, who are eminently reachable.

“They know who we are. We’re all over Facebook,” he said.

Promoters also said problems don’t always arise because of overbooking – stragglers without tickets can be just as dangerous – and that most professional promotional outfits take measures – like hiring private security and retaining insurance against damages -  to protect themselves in case of an incident. Sometimes, promoters are also not responsible for the door. Their responsibility ends at booking a show and selling the tickets.

Where promoters say the registration rule has some merit is in making clear who’s a professional.

There are amateur promoters who overbook venues in an effort to make a quick buck, said  Marcy Evans-Crump, who runs promotions company The Flywire and hosts events at Red Maple and Eden’s Lounge, among others. “For people who don’t promote professionally, it would be useful,” she said.

Paul Manna, who books talent and promoters events like Artscape, said the the registration would make sure promoters played by the rules.

 “Seeing as I carry my own insurance, [the registration] is a bit unnecessary,” Manna said. “But for certain promoters it’s a smart idea. If that’s what it takes to keep people safe and secure, then it’s fine.”

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