The Stage on Bay alcohol license denial leading to lawsuit

(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Normally alcohol beverage license applications that go before Savannah City Council are approved with little or no resistance from council members or the community.

But Thursday's council meeting was a much different experience for the CEO of a music venue looking to open its doors Friday night.

An 8-1 vote to deny the license was not only a huge setback for The Stage on Bay, it also set the City of Savannah up for a very time-consuming, costly lawsuit.

The lawyer hired to represent the music venue didn't mince words and made it clear after council's decision that they would be taking the city to court over the denial of the alcohol beverage license, especially after the venue operator invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the project.

The question now is, will the city or The Stage on Bay win the argument in court? And if the city loses, how much will it cost?

Some on council argue that regardless the outcome, the cost will be worth the fight. While others caution these aren't times to be willingly taking on a cause that could be a losing one in the courtroom.

"Every decision we make has the potential for litigation and the potential for liability. We live under that every single day. And again that's the cost of doing business for us, and the fact is, I don't think we're wrong in this," said District 1 Alderman Van Johnson.

"I understand what the community was saying. I understand their concerns, I understand the reasons for their concerns, and I don't discount their concerns. But, the law is the law. And to fight it only subjects you to extra expense. We need those expenses for other things," said District 4 Alderman Julian Miller.

Alderman Miller pointed out the millions in budget cuts across the board this year to balance the city's finances.

For The Stage on Bay, the show must go on and they've figured out a way to make that happen at least for Friday night.

"To be put in a position to where you feel like you have to cancel the show, you want to make sure the audience is having a good time. You want to make sure that they're happy. And to be faced with that decision is definitely rough and we definitely feel for them there," said Lucas Theatre Managing Director Erin Muller.

So instead of playing at The Stage on Bay, the Marshall Tucker Band will perform at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts Friday at 8 p.m.

Defending Thursday's council decision, Alderman Van Johnson says the denial of the license should send a message to anyone wanting to start a business in Savannah.

"It serves notice to other businesses wanting to come into Savannah that you do your due diligence, that you work with your neighbors in your community, and you make sure you have a certificate of occupancy before you go for a liquor license," said Alderman Johnson.

The Certificate of Occupancy is awarded once the new business passes a number of inspections. The Stage on Bay had yet to receive theirs as of Thursday.

Alderman Miller, the only vote approving the liquor license says while he agrees with Alderman Johnson's point, considering the applications shouldn't be the responsibility of the council.

"It needs to go before some type of administrative law judge or something of that order, to look and see, does it comply with all the rules and regulations, all the laws, all the ordinances. If so, as I understand it, we have no right to refuse it," said Alderman Miller.

In the meantime, the Lucas Theatre staff hopes hosting the concert Friday night at least helps soften the financial blow for The Stage on Bay.

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