Posted on July 1, 2004

Developer Rescinds Much Of Dress Code

Sheldon S. Shafer And Jennifer Smith, Courier-Journal (Louisville), June 30, 2004

Amid a brewing controversy and complaints of discrimination, Fourth Street Live is all but dropping its controversial dress code.

The new standard is that “no one will be turned away,” said Zed Smith, director of national operations for the Cordish Co., the project developer.

Specifically, the amended dress code requires a shirt and footwear and bans “indecent” attire, as defined by city ordinance. But the dress code no longer prohibits men from wearing jerseys, sleeveless shirts or caps worn backward.

Smith said yesterday that the recent firestorm over the dress code, which drew national media attention, “was obviously an issue that we did not want to be an issue any longer.”

The dress code is in place Wednesday through Saturday nights, when Fourth Street Live often has special events and closes off Fourth between Muhammad Ali and Liberty. On those nights, Cordish has an arena liquor license, which allows patrons to carry drinks on the closed-off portion of the street.

Smith said males with sleeveless undershirt-style s will be offered a T-shirt with sleeves while on the premises. But if they decline, they will still be allowed in, Smith said.

Cordish’s turnaround came a day after Smith met for about 90 minutes Monday morning at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel with three African-American members of the Louisville Metro Council — Denise Bentley, Barbara Shanklin and George Unseld — and two black ministers, the Rev. Kevin Cosby and the Rev. Louis Coleman, director of the Justice Resource Center.

Bentley said yesterday that she arranged the meeting to express their complaints that the dress code was discriminatory, chiefly against urban young men.

Bentley said she left the meeting Monday “very frustrated. I didn’t feel like Mr. Smith understood our constituency, that the dress code was very unfair.”

But after a series of phone calls Monday afternoon and yesterday morning, she said, Smith told her that Cordish would relax the standards.

After that, Bentley, Shanklin and council member Willie Bright, a Democrat whose 4th District includes Fourth Street Live, and Coleman showed up at a previously scheduled 11 a.m. news conference at Fourth Street Live, and, in interviews, expressed satisfaction with the relaxed dress standards.

“The whole effort was to reach a consensus,” Smith said in an interview, citing the conversations with local officials as “an opportunity to hear their side of the story and to fully understand the issues.”

Smith said, “We do not want to be exclusionary. No one will be turned away” unless dressed indecently, as outlined by city laws, adding that “we will try to accommodate” everyone who wants to go to Fourth Street Live.

In a statement, Smith said, “I am pleased that we were able to quickly reach an amicable resolution to the situation which took into account the sensitivities of certain members of the community, while at the same time ensuring that adults visiting the project in the evenings will be dressed in (a) manner that respects this first-class project.”

Beth Wilson, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, which also expressed concerns with the dress code, called Cordish’s change of heart “a wonderful resolution.”

She said the civil-rights agency would drop its review of possible legal action over the dress code.

Mayor Jerry Abramson’s administration had taken a largely hands-off attitude toward the dress-code controversy, saying that, when Fourth Street is closed for special events, the project is essentially to be treated as private property under Cordish’s jurisdiction.

Yesterday, Abramson said he was pleased that the dispute had been resolved and that all patrons will be “treated the same.”

Coleman said yesterday that he and other civil-rights leaders would continue to monitor the dress policies at Fourth Street Live “to make sure things go well.”

Some Fourth Street Live patrons interviewed yesterday agreed that the dress code needed to be relaxed, although others said they support efforts to control the standards.

“In an eating establishment, you don’t want sleeveless shirts,” said Mary Reed, 55, of Pleasure Ridge Park. “You don’t want to see men’s (underarm) hair while you’re eating.”

And if patrons don’t self-police and begin to wear disheveled clothing, “then they should change it back” to the former dress code, said Vannor Johnson, 57.