The fate of concert events in the City of Fountain appears to have gained some forward momentum. A local establishment, on the recommendation of several entities, will be working to develop their plans for events to be held through the remainder of the year.
Beaver Bottoms Saloon co-owner Jody Wiza has been undertaking creative events for the last year in effort to bring further revenue to what she says is not only her businesses, but to other hospitality and food/drink businesses in the area. A July 24 concert with country headliner Diamond Rio had been scheduled by the establishment last month, about the time Governor Tim Walz’s issued orders for Phase 3 reopening, June 10. At the time, Preston Police Chief Blaise Sass says he reviewed the Stay Safe MN order and cautioned Wiza about the attempting to hold the event, which was originally planned to be a 750-person concert.
Per Phase 3 guidelines, which are still in effect, restaurants and bars were allowed to open for both indoor and outdoor service with indoor guidelines of six feet of social distance, no more than 50% of total capacity, and not to exceed 250 individuals for indoors and outdoors settings each. Entertainment venues were further restricted to social distancing, no more than 25% of total capacity, and not-to-exceed number of 250 individuals in one area.
Sass indicated again, in another discussion with Wiza, the risks involved and stressing adherence to the governor’s order. At that time, Sass says Wiza indicated she was not prepared to reduce the size of the event and that the band had been booked. “She was going to go forward, with a lot of obstacles and challenges, to make things work. I informed her if she didn’t abide by the governor’s orders, our department would not be allowed to provide two officers, as is stated as a condition in her Conditional Use Permit from the city,” recalls Sass. Noting the risk, not only to public safety, but to Wiza as a business owner, he also pointed out misdemeanor charges, loss of city liquor licensing, suspension of the Conditional Use Permit, and additional sanctions that could have been applied by the attorney general.
However, Wiza has since stated she capped tickets at 200, going by the state order of 250. “I was getting jumped on before anyone knew what the order was. Nobody cared to ask me and the assumption was I was going to throw a 750-person gig while COVID was going on.”
Concerned with repercussions of the event, Sass then contacted the City of Fountain and touched base with Fillmore County Attorney Brett Corson regarding the issue. July 9, Corson’s records indicate he made contact with Wiza, via phone, to discuss the implications. “We discussed the current understanding and perspective of executive order and a recommendation from the Minnesota Department of Public Health. At the time, I asked if she had an attorney and suggested she have her attorney call me,” says Corson.
A special informational meeting was set by Fountain City Council for July 14 to discuss the issues. According to City Clerk Mary Tjepkes, no decisions were made other than to table any discussion until both Wiza and her attorney’s office, Ryan & Associates, could be present, at their request. “We didn’t want to do anything until we got all the information correct and had spoken to public health and the attorney.”
Meanwhile, Wiza received another notice, this time from the Minnesota Alcohol and Control July 16. Wiza’s attorney, Ryan & Associates Law Office, did contact the county attorney that day. According to Corson, Wiza’s attorney indicated the event would be reduced to 250. “That’s not exactly how the order is worded; it’s up 250,” says Corson. “That set the whole thing in motion.”
A letter from Assistant Attorney General Noah Lewellen the same day to the Fillmore County Public Health Office, further attempted to clarify specifications within the governor’s order. “In the context of a business that serves dual functions, like ‘on-site consumption restaurant’ and ‘entertainment venue,’ both sets of guidelines for restaurants and entertainment venues must apply because the establishment is providing both services. The ‘stricter’ guidelines should be followed, not because you pick/choose which guidelines to follow, but because both guidelines apply and the “stricter” one will obviate the need to comply with the ‘more relaxed’ one.” Put simply, because the event serves a dual purpose of restaurant and entertainment, the more restrictive guidelines of 25% capacity laid out for entertainment venues takes precedence.
Unfortunately for the saloon, the exact capacity of the facilities, indoors and out, are not known and it will take a professional assessment to determine them before any idea of the 25% capacity is known.
A decision to postpone the Diamond Rio concert event was officially announced by the saloon the following day. A second special meeting was scheduled for July 20 so that Wiza and her attorney, as well as Corson, Sass, and Fillmore County Public Health representatives could attend. It was here that Wiza expressed frustration with the city for not contacting her directly about the matter.
“I’m planning an event within the guidelines; really upset the city couldn’t talk to me,” said Wiza. “All I’m doing is trying to run my business. Numbers are being pulled out of the sky and I’m confused on why guidelines continue to change.”
“I understand your frustration and feeling like everyone is up against you. This is a good representation to see that we’re trying to make it work for you and that you can have a successful event,” responded Sass. “Ultimately your decision to postpone and I think it was a good decision.”
Wiza has provided a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan to the related parties. A capacity assessment will be done for all facilities related to concert events and occupancy limits posted. Plans for any future concerts, that is entertainment in which the saloon is earning specific revenue for, will need to be provided to the city for review. An August 14 concert event, with Firehouse, is already in the works, according to Wiza, as is a September event.
“How about I just work with you so we’re within guidelines,” asked Wiza. “If they want to come in, they’re going to have to abide by the rules. I’m willing to work with whoever I need to to make it work.”
“We kinda think we like your business and what you’re doing,” noted Mayor Jim Schott. “It’s just this situation. From now on, we’ll keep our ears open. Communication is a major factor here.” It’s expected the details of the next event will be presented at the August 5 council meeting for review. The council will make a determination at that time.