With the fate of the downtown late-night scene in the balance, Orlando City Commissioner Betty Wyman has moved to avert the potential failure of a hotly contested ordinance that would kill the nationally renowned rave culture.
Wyman had been planning a vacation to Thailand for months. Yet not until Thursday did she ask Mayor Glenda Hood to postpone a final vote on the rave ordinance, which had been scheduled for Aug. 25. Minus Wyman's support, the vote likely would have ended in a 3-3 deadlock. And under Orlando City Council rules, a tie vote is a failing vote.
Reached by phone at her home Tuesday, Wyman hung up after saying, "I'm not going to get into any controversy with you. How I vote and what I think is my business." That would be true, except when she is acting as District 2 City Commissioner.
On Aug. 11, Wyman voted with Hood and commissioners Don Ammerman and Nap Ford for the ordinance that would require every club serving liquor to close at 3 a.m., just about the time late-night rave crowds are beginning to get in the groove. This would have forced The Club at Firestone -- and other clubs catering to the late-night crowd -- to either fight back or accept the end of their lucrative late-night business.
Commissioner C. Bruce Gordy, who opposes the ordinance, acknowledged that by granting Wyman's request, Hood averted the defeat: "I definitely don't see anybody changing their vote," he said. Hood subsequently rescheduled the final vote for Sept. 8.
While sustaining the life of the ordinance, Wyman's request also gives late-night supporters time to lobby for changes that would allow the all-night parties to go on.
Jim Faherty, co-owner of the Sapphire Supper Club downtown, is circulating petitions to business owners in favor of letting the late-night scene continue. "Obviously Sapphire Supper Club doesn't hold raves. I just don't like the government telling bar owners what they can do and can't do," Faherty says.
And Jon Marsa, proprietor of the targeted Club at Firestone, is working with attorney David Wasserman to develop legal strategies for fighting the city. "The city's tried to shove things down people's throats before and lost," Marsa says, alluding to the recent court ruling allowing Fairvilla Megastore, which was represented by Wasserman, to expand its adult toy shop.
"There's a number of loopholes and options. I will exhaust every one of them before I close at 3 a.m," Marsa says. For example, Marsa says the ordinance contradicts the state law passed during the most recent legislative session by dealing only with liquor establishments. Also, the local ordinance includes language singling out his club.
Ultimately, Marsa says he is prepared to file a $5 million lawsuit for lost revenues: "And I'm going to win. But that's not where I want to be. I just want to do business."