Combat Rock

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February 6, 2006 // UPDATED 2:04 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

As more people arrive Downtown to live - rather than just work and play - traditional urban establishments increasingly are under pressure to accommodate their new neighbors.

Downtown's population has exploded in the last five years, increasing from around 9,000 in 2000 to more than 30,000 today. And areas long dominated by bars, dance clubs and strip joints are taking on residential flavor as housing springs up around them.

Conflicts between entertainment venues and urban dwellers haven't been a major issue - complaints over noise and related issues so far are just filtering in - but city officials expect tensions to rise as even more residents move in.

The scenario already is playing out in the North Loop, where a 26,000-square-foot restaurant and nightclub opened recently amid high-priced condo developments. Neighbors have been complaining about excessive noise coming from Trocaderos at Third Avenue & 1st Street. The club features live music by local and national acts Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

In particular, a bumping bass has riled neighbors at Rock Island Lofts, a seven-story condo development about a block from the club. When the development debuted in 2004, there were no nightclubs in the immediate area, and the 63 units sold for $300,000 up to more than $1 million.

Annoyed neighbors have contacted Trocaderos management, police and Downtown City Councilmember Lisa Goodman's office to vent their frustrations, but the club has received only a warning from the city for noise. And Trocaderos owner Shane Segal said his club has everything under control.

“There's no problem,” he said.

Andrea Christenson, who lives next door to Trocaderos at the 212 Lofts, wouldn't have moved to the area had she known nightclubs would be welcome, too, and she was under the impression the club was going to be an upscale steak and seafood restaurant.

“I wouldn't live on 1st Avenue,” Christenson said, adding there's a big difference between living next to a nightclub and a restaurant.

According to city ordinance, establishments can't have noise “emanate beyond the confines of the premises so that it disturbs the peace and quiet of the residents of any dwelling unit.” If future complaints come in and are substantiated by the city, owners could face a $200 fine that would double for each subsequent violation. If noise complaints persist, the city could revoke the establishment's license.

With Downtown poised to see significant growth in coming years, Ricardo Cervantes, the city's deputy director of licenses, said he expects to see more complaints. City officials are meeting with police on a regular basis to discuss concerns raised by residents and club owners and evaluate the effectiveness of the ordinance on noise, he said.

“The bottom line,” said Goodman, “is if you can hear the music outside of the restaurant, including vibration or bass tone, it's too loud.”

Steven Orfield, president of Minneapolis-based Orfield Laboratories, Inc., one of the country's top consulting firms on acoustics, lighting and other design issues, said the burden is on entertainment venues to find ways to buffer residents from noise.

Nightclub owners can do several things to insulate neighbors from loud music, such as positioning speakers throughout the club to improve sound quality while reducing the overall volume of noise emanating from the club, he said.

Residential pressures have impact on more than just noise.

Trocaderos initially sought an adult entertainment license for a topless bar, but Segal dropped the plan in face of intense neighborhood opposition led by the North Loop Neighborhood Organization.

In 2004, former Downtown-area City Councilmember Natalie Johnson Lee considered proposing a moratorium on new adult entertainment venues given Downtown's growing residential population. The moratorium went nowhere, but the discussion illustrates the tension between Downtown's newcomers and the entertainment venues it has long been home to.

Unless the city changes its zoning codes the two sides, however, will have to get along. Goodman said there's no reason why nightclubs and residents can't coexist peacefully.

The owners of the Triple Rock Social Club near the University of Minnesota, for instance, spent thousands to stack the club's roof with 6 tons of gravel to insulate residents from noise.

And the owners of Bucca di Beppo, a restaurant in the Loring Park neighborhood, compromised with residents living in the same building over noise issues.

“It's great to have high-quality restaurants and clubs close to residential as long as they don't have a negative impact,” Goodman said. “And for this business to succeed, they need the immediate residents to frequent it.”