MARIETTA - Members of Marietta City Council's planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee say they will not block renewal of the Locker Room Sports Bar's liquor license after receiving testimony from the bar owner and Marietta City Police Tuesday afternoon.
"He's been receptive to our suggestions and is making an effort to clean up the bar and stem any problems there. I think he's doing what he can," Marietta Police Capt. Jeff Waite said of Isaac Eastwood, who has owned the bar for six years.
On Sept. 24, Waite and police Chief Brett McKitrick requested the committee members ask the Ohio Liquor Control Board not to renew the bar's license when it expires in February, citing 966 calls for police service at the Greene Street bar over the last five years.
The officers submitted a list of arrests made in the Locker Room during that period, which included 21 assaults, two assaults on police officers, 57 disorderly conduct arrests, two concealed weapons arrests, two arrests for possession of weapons while intoxicated and 49 arrests for underage consumption of alcohol.
But Eastwood, who was apparently not told about last month's committee meeting, refuted those claims Tuesday, telling committee members that he had been unaware of any problems until he saw local media reports from the Sept. 24 session.
"And no one has ever accused us of serving drinks to underage customers," he said. "In fact, I want to get the word out to minors that this is unacceptable."
Eastwood admitted some patrons under the age of 21 could still sneak liquor into the bar, possibly concealed in small containers, but he also noted that bar employees try to keep a close eye on younger customers and confiscate false identification cards when they're presented.
"I'm not aware of any serious violations at all-no shootings in the bar, and no drug offenses," he said. "And when I found past employees with any drug involvement, they were fired on the spot."
Eastwood told the committee he has increased security and is closing earlier on business days, which run Tuesday through Sunday.
Eastwood said he has reported dozens of criminal trespassing incidents that have occurred at the bar to city police.
"I want those people to know they're not welcome there," he said. "And I'm more than happy to work with you to improve our business."
McKitrick confirmed that Eastwood has called often to report incidents at the bar.
"Maybe that's one reason we're getting so many calls from the Locker Room," he said. "But I'd rather get those calls and handle a minor problem that could prevent a much larger problem later on."
McKitrick said the council committee members have shown that the city is paying attention to concerns about local bars.
"But I would like to see representatives from the state liquor control board coming to town more often," he said. "If they are here we rarely know about it."
Committee chairman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, asked what council members could do to help Eastwood.
"Tell me when there is any concern so that I can take measures to address the issue," Eastwood said.
Mayor Joe Matthews said he had talked with Eastwood and is supportive of giving him the benefit of the doubt, noting that the bar's employees would also be out of work.
"I would hate to see eight to 10 people forced out into the street to look for jobs," he said.
Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, said he appreciated the police bringing their concerns to the committee and he appreciated that Eastwood was willing to talk to the committee members Tuesday.
Councilman Denver Abicht, D-at large, agreed.
"If you're making every effort as you have promised us, I'm not going to vote to take away your liquor business," he said.
In other business Tuesday, Jeri Knowlton, executive director of the Marietta and Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the council finance committee the city could keep the bureau's share of any hotel/motel tax revenue above what the CVB had already budgeted for September through December of this year.
The city splits the 6 percent bed tax 50/50 with the CVB, and appropriated $270,000 from the 2012 municipal budget for the bureau from this year's projected tax revenue. But by the end of September the tax had already generated $278,873, according to city auditor Sherri Hess.
Knowlton told finance committee chairman Vukovic that the CVB would grant the additional $8,873 back to the city for the municipal general fund.
She said the CVB had budgeted income of $37,000 for October, $32,000 for November, and $25,000 for December, and any bed tax revenues the bureau realizes above those amounts would be granted back to the city general fund.