URBANA — Officials with the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center told the city council Monday that recent guidelines imposed by the city have threatened their ability to continue operating.
Over two dozen people joined IMC board President Karen Medina, who told aldermen that the new restrictions demanded by the city would cause the center to be “regulated out of existence.”
Aldermen heard from Medina on the same night that they advanced an agreement from a Maryland-based developer to buy the Urbana Landmark Hotel and reopen it under the Hilton brand.
The city’s new guidelines for the IMC said all events open to the public there would be required to apply for a special-event permit 45 days in advance, pay a $100 processing fee if the event is not produced by the IMC — which is more than double the $40-an-hour fee that the IMC charges — and submit a security plan.
“The IMC leadership was shocked by the lack of communication and collaboration from the city of Urbana, where we hold trusted relationships, as well as an unbelievably all-encompassing net the city was casting,” Medina said.
She said the restrictions demanded by the city would mean events such as church gatherings, reading groups, music recitals, poetry readings and many others would now have to go through the permit process.
The issue stems from a March event held at the facility where police said a man was seen leaving with an alcoholic beverage in hand and they suspected marijuana was present and found alcohol inside the building.
After speaking with police, Medina said it was clear that only special events were the problem, not all events. But when the center was fined $750 for two events in May, she knew something was wrong.
“The city’s approach is like putting out a house fire by flooding the whole village,” Medina said.
The restrictions have already had an adverse effect on attendance at IMC events, which are generally free and open to the public.
A recent LGBTQ pride weekend event for which the center secured a permit garnered only 10 people at any time because “our permit was received 24 hours before the event start and we were not able to publicize it.”
Medina said the center has heard from event planners who have switched to Champaign venues because of the new restrictions, and it has already lost thousands of dollars in revenue.
After a conversation with Urbana police Lt. Joel Sanders, the IMC received a letter proposing that permits be required for all events that start after 8 p.m. Medina said this new rule would have applied to 30 of the 51 major events held in 2017 at the IMC.
“No one trying to arrange a normal, peaceable, alcohol-free event, a musical performance or birthday party or art show, such as we have hosted countless times, can now be confident that our space will actually be available,” Medina said.
“We are asking for you to put away your threats and talk to us. We want to be a responsible venue and not to be regulated out of existence.”
Alderman Eric Jakobsson said the actions taken by the city are “incredible” and asked Administrator Carol Mitten to explain.
“I guess what I’d like to hear from staff when you’re ready is why the IMC should not continue to be treated as an independent, not-for-profit art and culture center as opposed to being treated like some bar that wants to have an event to sell more alcohol,” Jakobsson said.
Mitten said a lot of the claims made Monday “warrant a detailed response, so I’m not going to get into a point-by-point rebuttal of what we’ve heard.”
But she also promised to come back to the council in the coming weeks with a detailed response and full explanation of the city’s actions.
Kendall Arrington, an event organizer who is currently planning one at the IMC, said he uses the center at least six or seven times a year for concerts and studio use.
“I’ve had this event booked since before the 45-day policy, and the paperwork actually hit the city’s desk today,” Arrington said.
“They gave me a call and told me that because it wasn’t in the 45 days, that we couldn’t use the IMC for our event. Never had any complaints. Never had any problems hosting at the IMC until this happened today.”