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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Turning Up the Volume at the Columbia Music Arena

A noise complaint surrounding a downtown business has caused First Ward City Councilman Kevin Johnson to inquire of Portsmouth City Solicitor Mike Jones as to the feasibility of creating a more specific noise abatement ordinance to alleviate the problem of loud, amplified music coming from concerts at the recently opened Columbia Music Arena in downtown Portsmouth.

Several area residents and business operators also recently attended a Portsmouth City Council meeting in June to complain about the noise. When the facility reopened after a fire destroyed the original closed arena, a section of the roof was left open, which residents say allows the sound to amplify throughout the neighborhood.

Local businessman Terry Ockerman said he pulled in to the lot to park at The Lofts around 8 p.m. on July 21 during a Columbia concert, and “The first thing I hear is ‘I’m gonna turn this m-f out.’” He said the act performing on the stage made that statement into the microphone, and it was heard all over the area.

Later, Ockerman got a call saying, "Terry what’s going on down here? Have you heard this (the offensive noise from the music arena)? Ockerman can't believe the loud volume and the graphic content of the lyrics emanating from the Columbia.

Ockerman said at one point in the evening  patrons of the concert spilled out into the street, and then some — including a boy he described as 15 years old — began harassing the patrons at the nearby Royal bar which developed into a confrontation involving racial slurs and unacceptable, potentially violent public behavior.

The fact is I wasn't there and did not observe the reported behavior. But, reading reports in the Portsmouth Daily Times and having knowledge of the businesses involved, I realize the source of the problem, and I think I understand the complications of redress.

Read Sixth Ward Councilman Steve Sturgill's comments carefully:

“I don’t think we’re any farther along toward solving your problem, Terry, than we were on the first day of the report. I could be wrong, but I have no way of knowing. The city allowed the Columbia to build an open-air theater, and now we’re trying to backtrack, trying to fix this. I don’t know how you fix that - the paste is already out of the tube. I don’t know how you fix it.

"It’s not Mr. Kalb’s fault. It’s not (arena owner) Mr. (Lee) Scott’s fault that they were allowed to build that facility the way they were allowed to build it. What we’re going to find out is the same thing. We get ourselves into these things. Over the years we have bought buildings we can’t use. Now we’ve got an open-air theater and there is nothing but controversy. You (Ockerman) have to keep coming to express your frustration, and we sit over here and wonder what’s going on. That’s not a very good working situation.”

Now read Columbia Music Arena Lee Scott's view:

Scott says he has become frustrated with recent attempts to get him to cut down on the noise in that neighborhood created by the concerts.

“They’re coming at us from every angle they can, and I’m just fed up with it,” Scott said. “I’m just about to say, ‘hey, I’m going to run six nights a week until 2:30 in the morning like my licenses says we can.’

“In my estimation, (Columbia operator and Portsmouth City Councilman) Jim (Kalb), myself, my wife (Attorney Christine Scott), really are going to continue to run the theater. We have bent over backwards. But I’m just about sick and tired of them running over us after giving us permission, after I spent $2 million and four years to build it again, after I was given permission,” Scott said. “I don’t know what the legal ramifications would be to the city if they tried to instill even more laws on me than what they already have.”

Now read the words of Columbia operator and Portsmouth City Councilman Jim Kalb:

“Just a short response to Mr. Ockerman’s comments,” Kalb said during remarks by members of City Council. “First of all I have no intention of recusing myself or removing myself from City Council. I understand what you were saying, and perhaps there was a problem inside, something that we can handle, but when people go outside and they’re slinging vulgarities and everything, are you going to blame that on the Columbia?”

My Final Take

Mr. Ockerman, other nearby business owners, and area residents have every right to complain. If proper corrections are not made, innocent, law-abiding people will continue to pay the consequences of breach of the peace. Perhaps, Councilman Johnson's noise abatement ordinance could help alleviate the problem. It is a start. I strongly believe the public should not be subjected to noise or language from an nearby venue that the average person, applying contemporary community standards, finds offensive.

But, I have a suspicion that the real problem with the Columbia Music Arena has seeds planted many years ago. That problem is twofold: (1) a lack of foresight by the city concerning the construction and operation of an open arena in downtown Portsmouth, and (2) the political and personal histories and attitudes of those involved in the fracas.

Councilman Sturgill, I agree with you that too little has been done correctly in the past. But, I do think something can be done now to "fix it." And, I do think we can assign this "fix it" task to City Council, Mr. Scott, Ms. Scott, and Mr. Kalb. Given the selfish motives of those involved, the real "noise" is the continual desire to aggravate, stir controversy, and strike out at every opportunity. The camps of the opponents have deep roots, and I suspicion money, power, and revenge drive the conflict. Isn't this another self-motivated squabble about "whose stream is more powerful than whose"?

How ridiculous. Why should The Lofts, The Royal, other nearby businesses, or for that matter, anyone enjoying the esplanade on a Saturday evening be subjected to aggravation from the Columbia? Shouldn't the people who created this problem, a problem that does produce and will continue to produce a potential for violence and injury be dedicated to correcting it? 

If it is too late to be proactive, it's not too late to be corrective. The biggest obstacles to correction are clearly the subjects involved.

Making statements like, "I’m going to run six nights a week until 2:30 in the morning like my licenses says we can" exacerbates the severity of the potential for further fighting. And, for someone to say when our problem spills outside, we have "no blame" is irresponsible. Of course, owners and operators need proper security and safety measures in place.

No one is suggesting the Columbia be closed. However, people do want limits and tight supervision. In a time when cool heads and logical solutions should be prevailing, the "old divisive" cast has chosen to stonewall and spit venom at anyone standing in their way to personal gain. Refusing to work together in gardens of opportunity, people prefer to plant more seeds of discontent. "When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn...."

Portsmouth City Council
    • First Ward - Kevin Johnson (740) 876-8558 

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