URBANA — Supporters of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center packed the city council chambers Monday night as discussion continued on new regulations and fines imposed on the facility.
Following a March incident where police observed someone leaving the IMC with an open container of alcohol after an event where it was not allowed, the city imposed a 12-month probationary period on the facility that required future events to get a permit at least 45 days in advance, pay a $100 fee and submit a security plan.
On Monday, Mayor Diane Marlin said that after a 45-minute conversation with IMC Treasurer Danielle Chynoweth earlier in the day, efforts will be “reset” between the city and the nonprofit to move the conversation forward.
Marlin said she’ll be meeting with Chynoweth and IMC President Karen Medina on Wednesday to further discuss the issue, including short-term solutions.
But the mayor made clear in a memo to the council that the current situation is “not the result of an arbitrary decision” and relates to “a number of serious public-safety incidents” at the facility in 2016 and 2017 that involved police calls.
Still, Marlin said, “sometimes you don’t get it right the first time around, and when that happens, you work to make it better.”
Medina said the new regulations are threatening to force the IMC to close. In a letter to the council, she said in the last week, the facility has had to gather donations for $300 in application fees for three upcoming events “that will bring in less than $100 each as revenue.”
She said though the city has insisted it has no malice toward the IMC, its decision in May to more than triple the fee for a special-event permit from $30 to $100 “feels like we’re being targeted for punishment.”
Those in attendance at the standing-room-only meeting, including Champaign County Board members, local artists, promoters, and residents young and old, mentioned the importance of the IMC as a unique and important space for Urbana’s culture.
Following a tense discussion about the ordinance language between aldermen, City Administrator Carol Mitten and attorney Jim Simon — who said it “needs to be cleaned up” — Alderwoman Maryalice Wu read a letter from Alderman Jared Miller in which he said he was concerned with how the city could have allowed such “broad and onerous restrictions” in the first place.
Miller asked the council — which did not vote on the matter Monday — to support lifting the probationary period for the IMC while a solution is reached, as “the evidence the city has provided has been underwhelming” given his experience as a promoter. He also placed blame on the IMC, saying it’s “no secret to anyone that throughout history, there has been lax enforcement of the rules” there.
He said he’s personally witnessed violations of the ordinance both while serving as an alderman and as a promoter before that.
“This is not just a one-sided issue,” Miller said. “Simply put, this ordinance must be changed to allow for a lighter touch. I’m not advocating for carte blanche, but rather to come to a mutual understanding that doesn’t so broadly restrict the IMC.”
Wu called on the council to fix the language and sought “long-term and short-term solutions,” including figuring out how to ensure “that the IMC and the people who want to hold events are able to do so while we figure out the details.”
“We don’t want to make a bad ordinance worse by rushing it,” Wu said.
The council will take up the issue again at its meeting next week.