By DEANN SMITH
The Kansas City Star
A proposed dress code ordinance is unfairly aimed at the downtown entertainment district, and any such regulations should apply throughout Kansas City, Cordish Co. officials say.
The developers of the Power & Light District oppose the municipal law, saying any dress code regulations infringe on the rights of businesses. They say the current dress codes at district establishments are needed for both taste and safety reasons.
“It appears to us it was all about the Power & Light District,” said Zed Smith, director of asset management for Baltimore-based Cordish.
Smith and Kevin Battle, general manager of the nine-block downtown district, met Friday for an hour with The Kansas City Star’s editorial board.
Cordish had previously declined to publicly discuss the proposed ordinance intended to bar businesses from arbitrarily defining the length of jewelry, hair, sleeves, shirts or pants, or the type of shoes worn by patrons. The ordinance would regulate dress codes at any “businesses or facilities” that have received tax abatements, relief or incentives. That would include the entertainment district and the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District.
But Cordish and some council members think the ordinance is worded so broadly that it would bar dress codes at business such as H&R Block. Smith said if the council imposes dress code regulations, then it is “only fair that it apply to every business establishment in Kansas City.”
City Councilwoman Beth Gottstein, the major sponsor of the ordinance now pending in the council’s Planning and Zoning Committee, said Friday that the city attorney’s office says the ordinance is worded to affect only businesses open to the public.
Gottstein said the proposal is not intended to focus on Cordish, but on developments receiving tax assistance.
“When there are public dollars involved, I think our stewardship is all the more important. The facilities belong to everyone,” she said. “The intent is not to be the decency police or the fashion police. But we have to be especially protective of public accommodations.”
Last year a public outcry arose when Cordish and some of its tenants imposed dress codes that some thought were inconsistently enforced and discriminatory against African-American males. The ban includes chains or necklaces worn by men, untucked shirts, white T-shirts, work boots and long, baggy clothing.
Smith said Friday that there were problems last year with one tenant and that Cordish worked to ensure the dress code was consistently enforced. He also said that the dress code is in effect only when alcohol is served in the evening.
“We have been working with the city and made adjustments,” Smith said. “We thought it was behind us.”
Smith explained that parts of the dress code are rooted in safety concerns to prevent gang paraphernalia from being worn, such as the ban on sagging pants or men wearing oversized jewelry, while others are a matter of decency and taste, such as barring men from wearing tank tops, which expose their armpits.
Cordish wants to create a safe and welcoming environment for a special night out downtown, Smith said.
“It becomes a huge nightclub,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of people are dressed up.”
To reach DeAnn Smith, call 816-234-4412 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
By DEANN SMITH