Business News

Artmosphere request deferred

by Walter Pierce

The popular Downtown music venue wants out of Downtown — zoning-wise — but might be party to a broader solution to the moratorium on new bar licenses in the district.

The Zoning Commission deferred action on Artmosphere owner Berry Kemp’s request that her popular bistro/live music venue be rezoned from Central Business District to General Business, which would allow Kemp to apply for a bar license and no longer be subject to the state licensing law that requires restaurants to earn more than 50 percent of their revenue through food sales.

Kemp is scheduled to submit her receipts to the state office of Alcohol & Tobacco Control in October. However, zoning commissioner Bruce Conque announced at Monday evening’s meeting that he had spoken with ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert and Hebert is willing to give Artmosphere an extension as Lafayette’s Downtown Development Authority and city officials work to devise new night-life regulations that would allow Kemp to continue operating Artmosphere as it is. The moratorium on new bar licenses was passed by City-Parish Council ordinance in 2003 in response to a rapidly expanding after-hours scene along Jefferson Street and public-safety concerns tied to it. But many at the meeting, including Conque and DDA Executive Director Nathan Norris, concede that the moratorium hasn’t worked as intended and that a cultural asset like Artmosphere is becoming victim to it.

“Since 2003, new bars and lounges have been prohibited in the CBD. In hindsight, this ordinance has resulted in unintended consequences; one of which is before us tonight,” Conque said Monday in introducing the motion to defer. “If this commission were to recommend rezoning of this property and subsequent approval of the council, this would not immediately work to the benefit of Artmoshere, whose past sales are pending an audit by Louisiana Alcohol and Control. Rezoning would only impact future plans for the venue; allowing for the possible conversion from a restaurant to a bar.

“This effort to secede from the CBD is a first; and has the potential of setting a precedent which should be of grave concern for those of us who champion the Downtown Action Plan. It also raises questions about how the 13-year-old prohibition applies to today’s hopes and plans for a vibrant Downtown hospitality district.”

Artmosphere owner Berry Kemp
Photo by Robin May

Had the Zoning Commission voted on the issue last night the matter would have gone before the council in mid-September. But because commissioners deferred the issue, it delays council consideration. That’s fine by Conque.

“The timing is perfect” for finding a solution to the Artmosphere issue, Conque tells The IND Tuesday morning, referring to plans that were already underway among the DDA, the Downtown Lafayette Restaurant & Bar Association and city leaders to rework the rules governing bar licenses and nightlife in general Downtown.

But Conque admits “it’s going to tricky” arriving at a solution that all parties involved can sign off on, particularly the owners of buildings Downtown where bar licenses are currently tied. (Bar licenses are connected to physical addresses, not to bars or bar owners, meaning bars Downtown cannot move out of their current locations for, say, a more favorable lease Downtown because they would forfeit their liquor licenses.) The building owners Downtown where those bar licenses are tied currently enjoy a monopoly on alcohol sales; they will likely be unsympathetic to Kemp/Artmosphere and any attempt to expand the sale of spirits in the Central Business District.

What is likely to happen according to our conversations with Norris as well as reports on last night’s meeting from the dailies — and it’s probably a best-case scenario — is creation of a type of cultural-district licensing regime where conditions such as offering live music are put in place. That would promote the expansion of live music venues.

The good news is, for now, Artmosphere will likely be allowed to operate as usual for at least the next several months as a solution is explored.