Tuscaloosa approves nighttime queuing permits

Strip Queues

Bars and other businesses operating into the late evening hours along the Strip and in downtown Tuscaloosa have some new rules they must follow when it comes to patrons lining up and waiting outside for entry.

On Tuesday, the Tuscaloosa City Council voted 5-0 on requiring a permit for any business allowing patrons to line up outside the business between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

According to the ordinance, fees will be waived through Jan. 1, 2023. After that:

  • Application for the queueing permit is $100
  • Annual renewal fee:
    • Is $250 for businesses with occupancy limits of less than 100 people
    • Is $500 for businesses with occupancy limits between 100 and 299 people
    • Is $750 for businesses with occupancy limits of more than 300 people

Businesses are not required to get a queuing permit, but if they do not they cannot allow patrons to line up outside their premises between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The queueing permit idea came about after complaints from patrons, passers-by and law enforcement over the difficulty of moving through areas packed with people waiting to enter bars on the Strip just off the University of Alabama campus.

Tuscaloosa can require a queueing permit because sidewalks are public property, not private.

During the Aug. 2 Council Administration and Policy Committee Meeting, Tuscaloosa Deputy Attorney Jimbo Woodson said that based on previous crowds, the city is expecting around five applicants applying for the permit.

“If you don’t need one and you don’t have those crowds at your door waiting to get in you don’t have to get one,” Woodson said. “But if you want people standing at your door to get in and you want to line them up or have them crowded around your door then you’re going to have a problem.”

Patrons gathering in areas outside businesses where there is no permit will be asked to move along by Tuscaloosa Police, Woodson said.

Woodson said the goal is to ensure people who want to patronize businesses can do so safely and stop people who aren’t visiting a business from loitering outside.

Businesses like Innisfree or the Alcove, which do not have patrons paying for entrance in a public right of way or lining up on public sidewalks, would not need a permit.

On the other hand, businesses with frequent late-night lines taking up a public sidewalk such as many bars on the Strip would need a permit.

“When you have somebody standing in a line and somebody at that door taking money from them, you’re conducting business on that sidewalk already,” said City Attorney Scott Holmes. “This gives you a permit, a right to use it to potentially actually get insurance coverage where you can’t get it now.”

Holmes said they don’t want to interrupt places that are doing business, but the city does want clear, defined lines for who is and who is not waiting in a line.

“If you are in line you’re in the line,” he said. “If you’re not in line you need to keep moving.”

The owner of Gallette’s, a popular bar on the Strip, was at the Aug. 2 meeting, asking for specifics regarding the permits.

“Some of our situations are different,” owner Jeff Sirkin said. “You come onto our property, get into our front door, you’ve got maybe a 20-foot section of our property. Traditionally, let’s say on a home game, our line is gonna wrap around our patio and go down the Strip toward Alabama Express.”

Sirkin said he wanted clarification on whether or not Gallette’s needs to change its line structure.

“So if you’re in my line and you’re lined up past halfway down the side of my building, am I responsible then for sending my door guys out there and telling all those people who are past that point ‘you guys have to move on, you can’t be in line,’ or is that something where (Tuscaloosa Police) are gonna come in?”

Sirkin said he’s concerned about sending his employees out of the bar and potentially being injured by someone being turned away.

Woodson said businesses will be responsible for their queueing line.

“If your queueing line is getting too long somebody’s gotta cut it off,” Woodson said. “TPD will take care of the rest.”

Tuscaloosa Assistant Chief of Police Stephen Rice said if someone is getting hostile, line enforcers should disengage and contact TPD.

“That’s what we’re there for,” Rice said. “We don’t expect your door guy to throw people out of line if they’re not cooperating. Just flag one of our officers down and we’ll take care of it.”

The rules will allow the city to have a clearly defined walkway and lines, Rice said.

“I think right now it’s almost the wild west down there,” he said. “We don’t want to shut anybody down. We don’t want to be writing tickets, I promise you. This is just one tool that we need to try and control that egress and walking back and forth.”

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said the massive amounts of people on the Strip at late-night hours means TPD winds up concentrated there and cannot handle issues that happen outside the area.

“Do I think in the end that this is going to solve it? No,” Maddox said. “I think it’s a tool, as Chief Rice said. We have a combustible situation on the Strip and I am very worried that it’s a powder keg waiting to explode. The amount of guns and drugs that we continue to confiscate in that area is not dissipating.”

Queueing permits are a good start though, Maddox said.

If a bar has issues with its queueing lines, TPD could require the bar to halt its line or could suspend the bar’s operations for up to 24 hours.

But that’s a last resort, City Attorney Holmes said, because the city wants patrons inside the bar and not forced to leave.

“If we don’t get better control of these areas, especially at peak times like game day weekends, I think we’re going to have something bad happen,” Maddox said. “What we’re trying to do is take steps to mitigate that.”

 

You can read the full ordinance below:

queueing permit

Categories: Featured, Local News