The Lyric Oxford needs your help
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We opened The Lyric ten years ago this July with the goal of creating a community venue that was socially available to all people in the community. Over 80% of our rentals are to citizens of Oxford. University groups and non-profits account for almost 70% of all rentals. In the past three months, we donated the space or rented the venue at a steep discount to a campus ministry, Thacker Mountain Radio, Move on Up Mississippi, Oxford Pride Weekend, Roxford Music School, Leap Frog, and events benefitting both Lebonheur Children’s Hospital and The Muscular Dystrophy Association. We are humbled to play a small role in the success of so many community events.
Over that same time period we have also worked with the City of Oxford on revised language to the proposed Downtown District Ordinance but the current proposal still falls short.
Under the current draft of the ordinance anyone who wishes to rent The Lyric must pay the City of Oxford up to $75 to register his or her event. We noted in a public hearing that the fee could cost our business up to $15,000 annually and were told to pass it on to the renting party or artist. The tax revenue from the registration will cover the administrative cost of a police background check. Your name and contact information as well as the names and contact information of any artist, DJ, or musician that YOU choose to book at your event must be provided to the City of Oxford and will be entered into the public record. We know from previous drafts of the ordinance that the City wants to look at the criminal histories of renters and artists.
The registration is part of a larger process that requires The Lyric to “provide notice of events scheduled” at our venue in the name of public safety, yet no other business in Oxford would be required to go through a registration process. If we want to show an Ole Miss football game, screen a film, host a fundraiser, a sorority formal, or The Southern Foodways Conference, we must give notice, and pay up to $75. This suppresses conduct, assembly, and the types of entertainment at our business. It treats citizens who rent The Lyric and artists like suspects.
Under the current draft of the proposed ordinance, law enforcement would not have the power to deny your event based on any collected information but they could place conditions on the event—such as added security or “other requirements which, in the judgment of the Oxford Police Chief… are necessary in light of specific, articulable, safety or health concerns.” NO BUSINESS can operate under this amount of uncertainty. We cannot estimate our costs of doing business or renting the property without knowing in advance what conditions will be placed on each concert or gathering. Law enforcement will ultimately control security-staffing decisions. We must seek advanced permission to know what other conditions will be forced upon an event. This is a veiled attempt to censor and control the kinds of entertainment and kinds of people allowed at The Lyric.
We should reject the false choice between public safety and our ideals. We are happy to work with law enforcement so they can staff appropriately, but the proposed ordinance restrains expression and chills your rights to assemble—a fundamental right under the First Amendment. The collection of an artist’s, writer’s, or renter’s name and contact information by law enforcement violates constitutional rights to privacy and due process. It is not reasonable to expect that your private information will be given over to a police department when you rent space from a private business. The City is attempting to take a private property and regulate it like a parade or public facility.
On April 7, 2018, nearly three weeks before the shooting incident that occurred at The Lyric on Double Decker Weekend, we voluntarily emailed city officials with a list of our rentals for the coming month so OPD could make staffing decisions and prepare. We noted the dates we were open, the name of the group hosting the event, and the expected attendance. Our staff and security routinely share similar event information with law enforcement and the fire department. In the 10 years we have been open, we have NEVER withheld any information from the Oxford Police Department, the Oxford Fire Department, any other City official, or MS Alcohol Beverage Control, when it was sought. If City policy did not prohibit, we would hire uniformed off-duty OPD officers to assist our security staff on concerts as more artist contracts are requesting.
We all seek a safe environment and are happy to give notice of the times, dates, attendance, and type of event to the City. We reject the notion that we must pay money to do this. Since opening, we have paid close to $2m combined in sales tax, 2% tourism tax, and City property taxes. We reject the idea that The City can place “conditions on events” that would require us to seek permission to establish our operating cost; while discouraging Oxford citizens from renting our venue. The notion that this is being done in the name of public safety, when the exact same event could happen across the street or around the corner and those businesses would not have to give notice is incomprehensible to us.
The Board of Alderman is set to have another reading and possible vote on this proposed ordinance on Tuesday, July 17th at 5:00 PM. We are once again asking that you let your voice be heard. If you are unable to attend we would sincerely appreciate your support by calling or emailing the Mayor and Board of Alderman. A full copy of the proposed ordinance and our elected officials contact information can be found at www.oxfordms.net
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