City officials said this week most people have been “understanding” of the temporary earlier closing time at Trotter Convention Center in the wake of a fatal Thanksgiving morning shooting outside the downtown facility.
The city council on Tuesday, though, learned some Trotter patrons are less understanding than others.
In response to the Nov. 23 shooting on Fifth Street that claimed the life of 27-year-old Cordell Lewis outside a party at the Trotter, the council opted to close the city owned convention center no later than 11 p.m. each day for up to six months, while the city enacts stricter safety protocols.
Derone Young and his fiancee Kurtida Swift implored the council during its regular session in the Municipal Complex to allow their wedding celebration — scheduled for Dec. 22 and 23 at the Trotter — to last through the 1 a.m. ending time originally agreed in their event contract.
“I’m from West Point,” Swift told the council. “I could’ve had my wedding at the convention center (there). But I brought my (business) to the city of Columbus because the Trotter is much nicer.”
Mayor Robert Smith pointed out the city had offered Young and Swift a full refund of their $2,500 booking fee if they wanted to cancel, but they refused. Then the city offered a prorated rebate of $300 to the couple for the two-hour cut to the contract, which the two reluctantly accepted after Swift mounted a fierce debate on the matter.
Swift said she booked the Trotter in January for her wedding, and it was supposed to allow her event access to the convention center from 8 a.m. Dec. 22 to 1 a.m. Dec. 23. She said she received notice of the change 10 days ago, and noted the contract called for the city to give at least four months notice of any such changes.
“I don’t really want any money back,” she said. “I want my time.”
Trotter Director Mike Anderson told The Dispatch after the meeting there had been two event cancellations since the council changed the Trotter’s closing time — a New Year’s Eve event someone nixed for both 2017 and 2018. Other than that and the Young-Swift wedding, the city offered a $200 rebate to the Golden Triangle Development LINK for shortening the organization’s planned Christmas party by two hours.
“There’s been a little frustration,” Anderson said. “But for the most part, people are adapting to it.”
On Tuesday, Smith emphasized to The Dispatch the early Trotter closing time isn’t permanent. He added he is also open to changing the practice of enforcing temporary early closing times at establishments where there have been shootings.
When the city agreed to close the Trotter at 11 p.m., the council also agreed to install surveillance cameras inside the convention center, as well as outside along Fifth Street to monitor entering and exiting crowds.
Smith expects that work could be done sooner than six months, which will allow Trotter a quicker return to its regular 1 a.m. closing.
All of that, Smith said, is consistent with what the city has expected from businesses and other establishments that had seen highly publicized violence.
In late 2016, the council enforced a months long moratorium on events that served alcohol at the Columbus Fairgrounds after a shooting at a party there.
In spring of this year, the council worked with the Princess nightclub downtown and the O-Kay Foods convenience store in north Columbus following shootings on or near those properties. Both arrangements included temporary early closing times that have since been lifted, and both would have faced forced measures from the city if the business owners hadn’t agreed.
Most recently, the council imposed a 10 p.m. closing at the Premier Lounge nightclub for up to six months following an incident where a city police officer shot and killed a man believed to be armed across the street from the club as people were leaving.
Smith, though, acknowledges the city’s reactive practice is often heavily criticized. He also hinted the criticism might be fair.
“It’s not the answer to everything,” Smith said. “… Really, it’s got to start at home.”
Smith said he plans in January to propose forming a task force of community stakeholders — a group he said could include businesspeople, pastors, a representative from the Columbus Air Force Base and other citizens from each ward. That task force would meet monthly, he said, and provide feedback on better ways to ensure safety and fight violent crime in the city.
“I’m open to discussing ideas and seeing what their suggestions are,” Smith told The Dispatch. “It’s their city. Let’s brainstorm.”
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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