NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The City of Norfolk is taking more steps to address safety downtown after two recent high-profile violent incidents.
Since a quintuple shooting on March 19 left two people dead and three others injured, the Norfolk Police Department has increased patrols around downtown Thursdays through Saturdays and has started making unannounced visits to restaurants and “entertainment establishments” that have conditional use permits (CUPs) to check for city code violations and to “provide a visible presence in the area.”
On Tuesday, Norfolk City Manager Larry “Chip” Filler announced more plans that focus on code enforcement, while also addressing city security equipment and future plans to work with business owners.
“We are prepared to do everything necessary to maintain law-and-order downtown, whether it be two o’clock in the afternoon or two o’clock in the morning,” Filer said.
Norfolk’s downtown area is home to roughly a dozen bars that also host late-night entertainment. Taxes from downtown businesses make up substantial revenue in the city each year. They are often also touted in the city’s tourism marketing materials.
However, since last summer, the downtown council representative, as well as neighbors, have been concerned with late-night “disorder and violence.”
Much of the blame has been lobbed at individual businesses themselves. In December, City Council voted to shut down a club on Granby Street after multiple shootings occurred outside.
In the case of the most recent shooting, Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone says it’s believed to have started over a spilled drink inside Chicho’s Backstage.
While Filer said it’s not known if Chicho’s was in violation on the night of the shooting, enforcement of all businesses will increase by March 31, with the fire marshal, departments of planning and neighborhood services, and Norfolk City Attorney’s Office making unannounced visits with “heavy enforcement of any city code violations at nightclubs and restaurants during nighttime hours.” These inspections will go at least for 90 days but may continue if warranted.
“We believe that anything that creates an inherent issue inside the club that may spill into the public right of way. Ultimately the club has to share some of the responsibility in that,” Filer said. “Overserving and overcrowding is an issue we are aware of with some of the establishments on Granby Street and we are going to have to take some action on that.”
Filer said he doesn’t think hard enforcement will solve all their problems. It is why he is renewing his call for City Council to fund the business compliance unit proposed as part of his upcoming budget.
He is also planning a meeting with all bar and restaurant owners, as well as the Downtown Norfolk Council, to try to get everyone on the same page with best practices. Other concepts under consideration are the establishment of a body to provide entertainment district management.
“I think it a pretty good strategy to sit down with them and say, ‘What types of issues are you seeing in your club?'” Filer said.
Extra requirements for CUP permit holders will be considered, including requiring enhanced security measures. Chicho’s Pizza Backstage, where the March 19 shooting started, has said it plans to add security.
The city, in turn, will invest in its own security that is currently lacking in downtown parking garages.
A 10 On Your Side investigation last week found eight of Norfolk’s 12 parking garages have no surveillance cameras operating, even if posted signs say otherwise. Many have not been operating for about a year and a half.
Filer said once he was made aware of the issue it was immediately a “massive” concern.
“The goal here is to have all garages outfitted with brand new security technology by the end of the calendar year,” Filer said.
Lelia Vann, president of the Norfolk Downtown Civic League, immediately praised the moves, which she called “long overdue.”
“The ones that live there believe it’s only a few [businesses] that are not following the rules,” Vann said. “Hopefully the city can get them.”
Baxter Simmons, owner of Baxter’s Sports Lounge, which hosts late-night entertainment said Filer’s recommendations “left nothing for people who run a quality operation to worry about.”
Still, Councilwoman Courtney Doyle, who has proposed closing all bars and restaurants at midnight, calls it “a start toward resetting late-night downtown, but only a start.”
“The goal of this action plan is to build a system whereby the business owners, operators, and the City of Norfolk have shared responsibility for creating a safe environment for all who live, work, and visit our restaurants in nightclubs,” and to “… get business owners and operators to a state where they are self-regulated, self-policed, and self-managed, with City support,” Filer said in a statement.