Despite receiving at least one racially insensitive letter in opposition to an application for a new bar downtown, the Mobile Planning Commission last week allowed the establishment to open with an occupancy of more than 100.
The commission, by a 5-2 vote, approved the application of Kuwauna Gill and the Kanary Bar at 105 N. Jackson St., with some voluntary restrictions. Commissioners Jay Stubbs, Taylor Atchison, Matt Anderson, Nick Amberger and Susan Carley voted in favor. Commissioners Allan Cameron and Kirk Mattei voted “no.”
Commissioners set Kanary Bar’s maximum occupancy at 179 and amended its hours of operation to a 10 p.m. closing time on weeknights and a midnight closing time on weekend nights.
Gill’s vision for the bar includes fancier cocktails in an environment set up for business meetings or early evening gatherings. While the structure is big enough to accommodate an occupancy of more than 300, she said she doesn’t think it’ll ever get that busy.
“I’m very passionate about downtown,” Gill told commissioners. “I want to assure the safety of my guests and my staff. I’m not looking for the place to be loud or rowdy.”
Despite these assurances, those in opposition — especially those who wrote emails to commissioners — had concerns about the future lounge. One emailer compared Kanary Bar to a previous bar — Tag — that was in the same location. Residents, the emailer wrote, saw issues with patrons standing outside and ignored existing laws. The writer claimed “it was a complete mess” and that patrons of Tag ‘strewn trash everywhere” and drank out of their car trunks. The writer also lamented that there were no “entertainment zones up on MLK Blvd” and they were only in “White areas.”
“It smacks of racism to me,” the letter read. “Wrong!”
Gill told commissioners she felt “humiliated” in a face-to-face meeting with area residents. She said one neighbor asked “if I was on drugs.”
When asked by Mattei if Gill had ever worked at Tag, Gill confirmed she had, as a “subcontractor.” She said she had tended bar at the previous establishment and had hosted events there. She said she had no say in how the bar was run.
“I was not the owner of the business,” she said. “I had no say so. I didn’t see anything out of line.”
Larry Moore, who owns the property in question, said while those in opposition have been vocal, he believes there are only about 13 people opposed to the project. All of those opposed, he said, are basing it upon a previous tenant and not what Gill plans to do with the property.
“This is not a criminal case, but they are already finding her guilty,” he said. “I’m asking that she not be found guilty and have to prove her own innocence.”
Those in opposition who spoke at the meeting each said they wanted the bar to open at the location, but wanted restrictions placed on its occupancy. The application initially would’ve allowed an occupancy of 340 people.
Mark Minnaert, a North Jackson Street resident and a former City Council candidate, said his concern is “safety and security” for the residential area. Minnaert, who represented DeTonti Square residents and members of the Downtown Residents Coalition, also told Gill that he never asked her any personal questions during the face-to-face meeting.
“If we keep it at 100 [occupancy] for a year, the neighborhood would support it,” he said. “If it turns into a club, then that’s not something we want.”
After being asked by Anderson, Minnaert confirmed that the groups he represents took no formal vote on the application itself.
Bob Isakson also spoke in opposition to the application, saying that while the bar would be downtown in an entertainment district, many of the structures on that side of St. Michael Street were residential in nature. Like Minnaert, he wanted the commission to deny the application, which would revert it to the occupancy allowed by right, or less than 100 patrons at a time.
“We like her ideas,” Isakson said. “We love what she’s planning. We beg you not to allow above 100 until it has been operating for a little while.”
Isakson compared Kanary to other bars and entertainment venues in the downtown area. The Ice Box bar, he said, had its occupancy raised after it had been open for a bit. Iron Hand Brewing has an occupancy limit of less than 100 and the proposed venue at 401 Dauphin Street was not allowed more than the standard 100-person occupancy because it was across the street from a residential building.
“We’re not against her bar,” Isakson said. “We want mixed use, but north of St. Michael is different than Dauphin Street.”
While Gill agreed to the 179 occupancy limit during the meeting, she seemed to take issue with the midnight closing time on Fridays and Saturdays. She wanted to be allowed to stay open until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. on the weekend. She had asked for an increase in occupancy rate for holidays and other special events.
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