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Forum Focuses on Fourth Street Live and Relations With African Americans

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Gary Brice doesn't plan on spending any of his money at Fourth Street Live any time soon.

At a forum Sunday on the downtown entertainment district, Brice said he doesn't like Fourth Street Live's brand of entertainment. But he said he is also fed up with tales of discrimination and harassment that he sees as being synonymous with the Cordish Companies-owned enterprise—especially when it comes to the dress code.

He said the Fourth Street Live dress code is “attacking” young black men with restrictions like sagging and long t-shirts.

But Cordish's chief operating officer disagrees.

“We are not in the business of discrimination,” said Cordish COO Zed Smith.

The Yearlings Club forum Sunday focused on Fourth Street Live and its relationship with African Americans. Questions of discrimination—initially based on the aforementioned dress code—have surrounded the entertainment district since it opened more than a decade ago.

During the panel discussion, Smith repeatedly said that the dress code is in place as a way to deter criminal behavior.

“We are trying to protect our liquor license,” Smith said. He said the Baltimore-based Cordish Companies received advice from police on what trends should be restricted so as to best avoid criminal activity.

But when asked to explain the correlation between dress and criminal behavior following the forum, Smith offered no comment.

Metro Councilman David Tandy, a Democrat whose district includes downtown and who was also a panel on Sunday, said there are clear answers to how crime and dress relate. But he added that people wearing “regular dress clothes” aren’t commonly arrested for crimes like disorderly conduct.

Every Cordish-owned property that functions as a “nightclub,” including Fourth Street Live, has a dress code, Smith said.  Initially, the dress codes were put in place to keep “gang activity” out of Cordish-owned establishments, he said.

But now, he said an issue has arisen with consistency. For example, just getting onto the street doesn’t mean getting into other establishments within Fourth Street Live.

“The problem lies in the fact that businesses within Fourth Street have different policies than the people who watch the gate,” he said. “We want to make sure it is applied and enforced equally to everyone, everywhere.”

Training sessions are made available to all Fourth Street Live employees, but they're not mandatory, he said.

Michael Aldridge, executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky, speaking as a panelist, said Cordish has a ways to go to “improve its public image.”

He said the community would like to see Cordish “as lease-holder, use its weight a bit more and hold businesses more accountable.”

But Smith said Cordish would be overstepping its boundaries as the lease-holder if it got involved with how individual businesses enforced dress codes.

“We are not involved with the execution of our dress codes,” he said. “We are responsible for implementing the dress code.”

Despite this, Brice said Cordish Companies need to “ease up on that dress code.”

Brice also noted that the dress code specifically prohibits men from wearing some items of clothing that women are allowed to wear into Fourth Street Live. For instance, the dress code specifically disallows men from wearing sleeveless shirts or exposing undergarments, but not women, he said.

“The dress code that you discriminate against for the men is also a part of the culture,” Brice said. “It’s a joke.”

Logan Travis, a panelist representing the University of Louisville's international diversity and outreach program, said the differences in the dress code regarding men and women is "basic business."

"If you bring women, you're going to bring men and unfortunately men are kind of archaic and like to see women in certain ways," he said. "It brings more business that way, in my opinion."

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.