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The City Council rejected the ordinance.
With privatization off the table, Westport needed a new strategy. So in 2003, the business owners established the Westport Community Improvement District. Landlords agreed to pay an annual property-tax surcharge that, combined with a half-cent sales tax, would send the Westport CID more than $1 million each year to fund capital improvements and security. They also retired the Westport Merchants Association, replacing it with the Westport Regional Business League.
Jon Engelman has served as the WRBL's executive director since 2006. It's his job to corral the wants and needs of the district's stakeholders — a cast of characters whose interests diverge from one storefront to the next. But there's one thing they all agree on, Engelman says: Westport needs to be safe. One widely reported instance of violence could make for public-relations kryptonite.
When Engelman first took the job, Westport's security guards were managed in-house and were mostly off-duty police officers. That changed in 2008, when Engelman hired Atlanta-based security outfit Chesley Brown International, the same company that patrols the Country Club Plaza. And when Chesley took over, it inherited a policy that Westport had developed over the years of "banning" certain patrons from the businesses and other private property that make up the Westport CID — an area that stretches approximately from Broadway to Waddell and from 40th to 43rd streets.
"It's basic Private Property Rights 101," Engelman says. "We have agreements with all the property owners that they [Chesley Brown's officers] can act on their behalf. The bars are definitely all in agreement that a troublemaker for one is a troublemaker for all."
And the troublemakers aren't usually one-time offenders, says Terry Burns, who co-owns Californos.
"When they [security guards] encounter a repeat offender, one that many of the license holders have encountered, they attempt to head off a bad situation by not allowing that patron access to the bars," Burns tells The Pitch in an e-mail. "It's a help to not have to deal with the same trouble over and over again."
The bans apply only to private property within the Westport Community Improvement District, says Charles Renner, an attorney for the CID. Renner says security guards know the difference between public sidewalks and streets and private parking lots and businesses. "I don't believe that you have instances of people being detained for trespass from being on public property," Renner says.
Engelman plays down the bans altogether. People on Chesley's "banned" list should be able to re-enter Westport without hassle as long as they behave, he says. "Your ban isn't going to come back to haunt you unless you go back into that pattern and you do it again," he says. Plus, the bans are rare, he says. Of a dozen names that The Pitch gave Engelman — all people who say they've been banned at one time or another — he says six had never even been on the "banned" list.
But what Engelman and Renner describe — a rarely used tool for reprimanding a handful of out-of-control partiers — looks different from the stories told by the banished. And those stories have lawyers circling.
The list of the banned is long and diverse: a nurse who works at a metro hospital, a server at a midtown music venue, a former Sprint employee, a couple of tattoo artists, a glass blower, a taxi driver and a construction worker.