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Down by Law

Albany Common Council begins discussions on a permitting system for live music

‘We are trying to clean something up and do some non-crisis work here,” said Albany Common Councilman Dan Herring (D-Ward 13), explaining his introduction of an ordinance that would establish a permitting system to regulate entertainment in restaurants and taverns in the city. On behalf of the Jennings administration, Herring opened discussion on the ordinance last week at a meeting of the council’s Planning, Economic Development and Land Use Committee, which he chairs.

As it stands now, any entertainment—defined as disc jockeys, karaoke, or live musical acts—in restaurants or taverns is prohibited by city code and is illegal. The only permitted entertainment is a jukebox or recorded music played through a central sound system. According to assistant corporation counsel Patrick Jordan, the city could penalize any bar or restaurant that features live music if the owner of establishment hasn’t gone through the time-consuming process of receiving a variance. This involves the owner of the building going before the Zoning Board of Appeals and proving that they have encountered a hardship that they didn’t foresee before purchasing the building. There is even a public-comment period at which members of the community can attempt to sway the board’s decision.

It’s a difficult process and, as Jordan claimed, it’s a process that few of the establishments where you can catch live music have gone through. “The goal of the ordinance,” he said, “is to bring what is already in practice within the law.” Equally concerning for the city is that once a building has been granted a variance, that variance stays with the building, regardless of how many times, or to whom, it is sold after.

The original version of this ordinance raised significant concerns among musicians and bar and restaurant owners, due to what was seen as a set of onerous, unnecessary regulations that it would place on them. While the bill has been amended since first being introduced, there are some who argue that, as it is written, it would still impose crippling regulation.

Most contentious for Jeff Gritsavage, a chairman on Lark Street BID’s board, are the requirements expected in the permitting process. According to the proposed legislation, an establishment would have to apply for a yearly permit at least 20 days prior to the first entertainment event. The cost of the permit would cost $300. Originally, the law would have allowed for businesses to apply for a one-time permit, but that was scrapped during discussion at last week’s meeting.

In the application for this yearly permit, the business would have to provide innocuous information, such as the name and address of the business, and arguably impossible information, such as the date, time, and length of the event, the number of people anticipated to show up, even a copy of the contract between the establishment and the performer.

It is ridiculous to expect a bar owner to know who is going to be performing throughout an entire year. “Lark BID can’t tell you a year out who is going to play at our events,” Gritsavage said. “And this is a well-organized operation.” Even expecting bars and restaurants to know who will be playing next weekend is sometimes excessive. The Lark Street scene thrives on spontaneity, he said. It is a scene that “fosters creativity, and we can’t do it with inflexible rules, especially with the way it goes with scheduling.”

As he pointed out, many of the shows on Lark Street are spontaneous, agreed to on a verbal contract or less. “I can’t even conceive of the types of performances that we are going to have. I don’t want to have to. I want you to be able to visit Lark Street and try anything. We need the spontaneity.” As an example, Gritsavage said, sometimes musicians who have performed at the Egg head over to Lark Street after the show to hang out. Sometimes they bring their instruments. If they want to play, and the owner of a restaurant wants them to play, it makes no sense to place restrictions on that. “That’s what makes Lark Street such a special place.”

However, Gritsavage is cautiously optimistic, saying he believes that the council is aware of the needs of Lark Street and will be working with business owners to accommodate them while trying to bring them under the law.

This legislation is far from being finalized, Herring assured.

His committee, he said, is going to research how other cities grant permission for live music. He said that the council is taking the concerns highlighted by Gritsavage seriously. “We don’t want to overly restrict with this,” Herring said. “This is an attempt to fix something that has been a problem for awhile, and this was our first crack at it.”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


Social Studies

Breakfast series draws large audiences and attention to the topic of social media

On the morning of Friday, Oct. 30, 150 people gathered at the Sunmark Federal Credit Union head office in Latham for the third event of the Social Media Breakfast—Tech Valley series. Attendees networked, ate bagels and compulsively updated their Twitter feeds. At this breakfast meeting, a Blackberry in one hand was as common as a cup of coffee in the other.

Social media is a term used to refer to social networking Web sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as communication tools like blogs, search engines and forums.

The Social Media Breakfast series, founded by Bryan Person in Boston in 2007, was brought to the Capital Region this year by communications and public relations professional Amy Mengel. The first event was held in June, and since then the series has grown to become one of the most popular Social Media Breakfast series in the country, drawing people from a variety of industries.

“It seems like there’s been a real variety of backgrounds of people who have attended,” said Mengel. “We have people from state agencies, from small businesses, from academia, young professionals, old professionals, and they’re groups of people that may not necessarily have otherwise overlapped. It’s been really neat to see people who all have this interest in learning about social media but are from very diverse backgrounds get together at these events and network and share stories.”

Mengel said that she feels that there are a variety of reasons why the series has become so popular.

“I think that social media in general is a very popular topic right now as more companies and organizations begin to adopt social media internally, and as more people just start using social-media platforms personally,” she said. “I also think that there’s not really another event like it in this area. In some other cities where there are Social Media Breakfasts, there are also a lot of other similar events and conferences, and people have more to choose from.”

The grassroots popularity of the series is, in itself, a testament to the potential impact of social media.

“We’ve only promoted the event using social-media tools,” said Mengel. “I haven’t bought any advertising, and I haven’t really reached out, from a PR perspective, to traditional media channels. It’s promoted through Twitter, LinkedIn and we have a Facebook group, and the registration site that we use, EventBrite, allows for some integration with other social-media Web sites.”

The first event featured a more general overview of social media, while subsequent events have been more focused on specific aspects of social media. Mengel selects topics and panelists based on feedback from event attendees.

“After the second event, I sent out a survey to the attendees and the two topics that came back that people really wanted to hear about were social-media monitoring and measurement—which is why we had Aaron Newman last week—and also, how to build a successful blog, and how companies can use blogs.”

The next event, taking place on Dec. 4, will focus on blogging and will feature panelists Christina Gleason from Phenomenal Content, Lara Kulpa from Ginkgo Consulting, and Amanda Magee from Trampoline Design Studios, and will be moderated by Greg Dahlmann from All Over Albany.

“It’s easy to say ‘I wish we had this’ or ‘why don’t we have that here?’, and I really credit Amy for taking the initiative to do something about it,” said Dahlmann. “People are looking for answers, and I think a lot of people probably see something like this as an opportunity to get a better sense of what’s going on.”

The event will be sponsored by the communications department at the College of Saint Rose.

“Speaking for myself only, I have learned of many new Web sites and tools for using and analyzing social media and/or its effectiveness in particular communications/business situations” said Karen McGrath, a professor at Saint Rose who attends Social Media Breakfast events. “I have also been able to network with colleagues in the field and hope to continue to do so.”

Although the event is free, advanced registration is required, and it’s important to register early as previous events have sold out. Information about the series is available at smbtv.eventbrite.com.

—Cecelia Martinez




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