Making its case: How Mattison’s City Grille convinced the Sarasota City Commission to change its tune on downtown outdoor live music

Published February 17, 2010

Since the Downtown Partnership asked Paul Mattison to open his outdoor dining venue on the corner of Lemon Avenue and Main Street seven years ago, Mattison’s City Grille let live bands play until 11 p.m. during the week and midnight on weekends. The restaurant had received a half-dozen or so sporadic noise complaints over the years, but the city never took action. Which it could have, since city code states that the cutoff time for live music at a non-enclosed structure is 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends.

When an anonymous noise complaint targeted Mattison’s in early November 2009, though, the Sarasota Police Department intervened, delivering a blow to the business’ bottom line.

“We’ve been there for seven years and we’ve always done those hours and we never had an issue,” says Mattison. “Then out of the blue we got this one complaint and they were on us like white on rice.” The move had such a negative effect on business that Mattison felt the need to go before the City Commission to make his case for a legal extension of the cutoff time. “The other thing that I tried to get them to do, but they didn’t, is that you can’t complain anonymously,” he says. “It could be a former competitor. It could be anybody. … That’s the most frustrating part. You want to be able to pick up the phone and say, ‘Let’s talk about it.’”

Mattison was also concerned with another aspect of anonymous complaints: “The decibel is pretty low [65 DbA, 70 DbC] and it’s taken at the property line. So, if someone’s standing on the curb and they think it’s too loud, is that where they’re complaining from? If they are complaining from four blocks away then [the police] should go there and take a measurement.”

Anonymity and point of measurement are issues opponents have raised since the city’s noise ordinance first went into effect. Those rules weren’t changing. But the commissioners did hear Mattison’s plea and voted unanimously to extend cutoff times by an hour for non-enclosed businesses zoned for the downtown core. The effects were immediate. “It instantly improved,” says Mattison. “The difference was incredible. We experimented with different times and just backed it up and it didn’t help. Ten o’clock is not late. We can’t roll up the sidewalks at 10.”

Support for the extension was overwhelmingly strong. Even the leaders of condominium associations were behind it. “The commissioners were supportive,” says Mattison. “Condo associations and everybody supported it. They said, ‘We support it, but we want it to be enforced.’”

Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. Mattison’s ended its live music at 10 on weekdays and 11 on weekends from Nov. 16 till Jan. 19. “In two months, just in Fridays and Saturdays alone, it was probably a $50,000 or $60,000 issue for us,” Mattison says. “A lot of families rely on those jobs and when we got hurt Nov. 16 it put lot of pressure on those people’s pocket books during Christmas. … There’s too many people that are struggling out there and we have to do what we can to help each other.”

Photo courtesy Jennifer Ahearn-Koch

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