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Lyric Owner reacts to proposed Downtown District

The Oxford Board of Aldermen is scheduled to hold a second reading and public hearing regarding a proposed downtown district on Tuesday, but one business owner is speaking his mind.

Bradley Bishop, owner of the Lyric, issued a statement via social media over the weekend saying the theatre feels its First Amendment rights would be violated if the ordinance was approved in its current form. The portion of the ordinance in question is Section 14-103, which requires “event venues” to have all events permitted through the city and possibly rejected by the Oxford Police Department.

While he agrees with the need for more safety precautions, especially when as many as 1,000 people are in his venue at one time, Bishop said he doesn’t agree with censorship. He also said he disagrees with the way his business, as the only mandated “event venue” in the proposed district, would be required to seek approval from law enforcement every time they hosted a concert or party.

Although there is a clause in the latest form of the ordinance that reads “In no event shall an application be denied based on the content of speech or expression anticipated at an event,” Bishop said he believes there is still room for censorship.

“The whole ordinance has a lot of concerns as far as people’s right to privacy and robbing a business owner of their decisions concerning staff and their own business,” Bishop said. “We would be the only business in the city that would be required to get approval from law enforcement to rent our property or book an artist. I think this is unconstitutional, but I also think the city has some legitimate public safety concerns.”

Hearkening back to the April 27 incident when a gun was fired at the Lyric, and even before, Bishop said there are definitely some improvements to be made when it comes to keeping patrons safe.

He also said he has taken it upon himself to research and learn about which security measures will work best for the Lyric.

“I’ve called other venues around the country, and since there’s really no other resources available in our community or the state, we’re having to look outside to bring in professionals to help train our staff and security,” he said. “That’s something I think should be done regardless of where your business is located.”

Bishop added that he and Mayor Robyn Tannehill met last fall and had a successful conversation, after which the Lyric started emailing lists of event information to OPD, which he happily shared. What he’s not willing to do, he said, is give law enforcement and local government the power to decide the types of artists and events the Lyric rents its space out to.

Bishop said he’d attempted to speak with city officials, but to no avail, and that was one reason the letter from the Lyric was posted. Since posting the letter on social media, he said the Lyric has received overwhelming support from members of the community.

“We posted that letter on Facebook [Saturday], since then it’s gotten almost 18,000 views, shared hundreds of times and it’s only been up about 24 hours,” he said. “Most of the comments have been overwhelmingly supportive. Just from that perspective, it’s been humbling and empowering at the same time. We’ve never had a post for any event or concert receive that much traction.”

As far as changes to the proposed ordinances he’d like to see, Bishop had a few ideas, especially concerning appropriate security measures.

As far as training hired security personnel is concerned, Bishop suggested that the sales and tourism taxes businesses on the Square pay should go towards making sure the staff he hires is properly equipped to handle all situations. Giving someone a brightly colored t-shirt, he said, isn’t effective without proper training.

“Some things I would like to see, and why I was trying to reach out to the aldermen and the mayor, is that I think businesses should have the right to hire an off-duty uniformed officer,” he said. “We promote concerts all over the state, and whenever we go to other venues, we’re allowed to hire officers, but aren’t allowed to in Oxford. If you’re in the lobby of the Lyric and you see a uniformed officer present, I think that’s going to go a long way into deterring a lot of behavior that everyone is concerned about.”

To read the proposed Downtown District ordinance, visit https://www.boardpaq.com/get?c=1yvvsuFlHt0rQdKR3n69aw%3d%3d. To view the Lyric’s statement, visit http://facebook.com/thelyricoxford.