Local News
11:46 am
Mon January 21, 2013

Activists Call on Cordish to Implement Policy Changes at Fourth Street Live to Address Race Concerns

Activists gathered at Fourth Street Live on Monday to speak about concerns over racial discrimination.
Credit Joseph Lord/WFPL

Updated:  In his time as a security supervisor at Fourth Street Live, John Michaels often was called to the entertainment district's entry points to mediate dress code issues, he said. He said he quit in 2009 out of concerns that that dress code wasn't being enforced fairly. Were people being denied entry out of race or legitimate concerns over dress at the privately operated district? 

"I think it was a little bit of both," Micheals said.

Michaels  spoke Monday morning as community activists vowed to hold the Cordish Cos.'s "feet to the fire" on promises they say were made in private meetings to address community claims of racial profiling at the Fourth Street Live downtown entertainment district.

Representatives from Connected Voices, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice and the Fairness Campaign organized the news conference. 

Update: Here's part of a statement from Fourth Street Live manager Jim Layson, provided via a Cordish spokeswoman:

Our management team has worked with and will continue to work with various community groups and greatly values open dialogue. With respect to the dress code, we have in fact implemented constructive ideas consistent with these conversations such as listing the dress code on the web site and publicizing a toll free number and assertions otherwise are not accurate.   Dress codes are recommended as a critically important best practice by police departments and liquor agencies throughout the United States. Consistent with these recommendations, the dress code is only in effect when alcohol is being served and the property is operating as a night club.   Fourth Street Live! uses a third party, respected national company for its security and dress code application, and of course, demands the dress code be applied fairly and in a uniform, non-discriminative manner.  Any statement otherwise is completely false.  Further, Fourth Street Live! conducted an independent investigation of the alleged incident that occurred at a third party restaurant and it is appears the allegations were completely void of any merit. 

Layson also said, through a spokesman, that Michaels worked for a third-party security contractor and never filed a complaint about his concerns with Fourth Street Live. 

Theresa Boyd, a member of Connect Voices, said Fourth Street Live security once stopped her and a friend when they tried to attend a performance the now-closed Improv comedy club. She was wearing a dress; he was wearing a suit, she said. 

"We got a lot of static when we came to the entry point because of the way we were dressed," Boyd said.

They were allowed onto Fourth Street Live, but only after arguing, she said.

"Not all cultures of people dress alike," Boyd said on Monday.

In a private December meeting with activists, Cordish officials promised policy changes would be forthcoming, said Christopher 2X, a community activist. 

Michael Aldridge, executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky, said Cordish officials had promised "transparency" in those meetings but has yet to publicly address the concerns. 

"We're not hearing from Cordish," Aldridge said. "That is the problem."

Michaels, the former security supervisor, told of once admitting a Chicago couple who'd been denied entry by one of his subordinates because of their attire. He reasoned that they were out-of-towners and unaware of the dress code, but he said his supervisor over-ruled his decision to let them into Fourth Street Live.

"If I had my druthers, I would boycott this place," he said.

Claims that Fourth Street Live used its dress code to racially discriminate began not long after the entertainment district opened in 2004.

Last month, Andre Mulligan filed a lawsuit claiming that the Maker's Mark Bourbon House & Lounge discriminated against him and others because of race when he tried to organize a party at the Fourth Street Live bar and restaurant.

Afterward, a community meeting was held at the former Improv to discuss racial discrimination claims; 2X said about many of the 200 attendees shared anecdotes about being denied entry to the entertainment district. A reprsentative from the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. said in private meetings with activists that the concerns would be addressed.

Boyd, who has participated in those meetings, said Cordish has presented plans for changes to activists. She adds in a statement, "If those new policies are now in place, we haven't been told about it, and more importantly the community hasn't been told about it."