Dress code makeover at Cordish venue in Ky.

Clothing: The Baltimore-based developer bows to pressure and lifts a prohibition that critics said targeted blacks.

July 02, 2004|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

The Cordish Co., the Baltimore-based developer credited with projects that have revitalized downtowns around the country, has been embroiled in a dispute over the dress code at its open-air entertainment facility in Louisville, Ky., that reflects a larger debate pitting control of decorum versus potential discrimination.

Bowing to community pressure, the Cordish Co. this week lifted part of a dress code for men that prohibited sports jerseys and baseball hats worn backward at 4th Street Live!, an entertainment venue in Louisville similar to Cordish's Power Plant Live! in downtown Baltimore. Sleeveless shirts for men remain prohibited.

Local activists and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky had complained that the code unfairly shut out urban youth, blacks and poor people, and assumed people who wore such clothing to be troublemakers. A grievance was filed with the city's human relations committee, and a protest was threatened if the ban wasn't lifted.

"It transcends racial lines, but it disproportionately affects African-Americans and urban youth," the Rev. Louis Coleman, a longtime civil rights activist, said of the dress code. "They want a select group to participate in their activities. This group needs some good sound courses in cultural diversity and what young people are wearing today. Cordish needs to be brought up to date."

Denise Bentley, a Louisville city councilwoman, wanted Cordish to replace the dress code with the "no shirt, no shoes, no service" policy that most businesses enforce.

"I have a 14-year-old son, and jerseys are his wardrobe," Bentley said. "He's not a gang member."

Cordish had maintained that the policy is in force at its other entertainment developments, including in Baltimore and Houston. Since the Louisville project opened in April, about 100 of 300,000 patrons have been stopped because of the dress code, said Zed Smith, Cordish partner and director of operations. The company provided T-shirts to those stopped.

The ban was enforced only Wednesdays through Saturdays when the area is blocked off for special events and concerts and visitors have to pass through an entry point, and only in effect where alcohol was served, Smith and city officials said.

To set a standard

Cordish officials said they have dress codes to create a standard, like nightclubs that prohibit sneakers or restaurants that require dinner jackets.

"The basis of the dress code is in no way, shape or form racially based or designed to be exclusionary," Smith said. "It speaks more to casualness and the idea that there is a standard of dress. It implies that there is a certain level of respect for the environment. We are trying to move from a casual environment to something a little more formal."

Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson praised the company's influence on his city. He said he believes private establishments have the right to establish a dress code as long as it doesn't exclude a group or is enforced arbitrarily.

"The Cordish Company has shown a willingness to listen and respond to the concerns of individuals in our community," the mayor said in a statement released by e-mail yesterday. "They have successfully resolved the recent concerns about the dress code, and we support both their decision and their right to demand some basic standards of attire to create a quality entertainment environment."

The Cordish Co. develops shopping centers, residential complexes and gaming and lodging facilities. It has made a name in building large-scale urban projects. Its $75 million 4th Street Live! complex in Louisville was once an enclosed mall but is now a two-square-block, open-air entertainment venue.

At Baltimore's Power Plant Live!, signs to the entrance inform visitors that "proper attire is required." That generally means patrons must wear shirts and shoes, and men are prohibited from wearing sleeveless shirts, Smith said.

This week, the Web site for Power Plant Live! described its dress code as "no excessively baggy clothes and no sports jerseys. Jerseys on game days only." But the Web site was blacked out yesterday, two days after a Cordish Co. representative spoke with a Sun reporter.

Smith said the Cordish company would continue to enforce the standards at the Power Plant because so many of the restaurants and clubs there have the same standards. Smith said the dress code was based on the rules at the establishments at the Power Plant.

No complaints

The Have a Nice Day Cafe, a Power Plant club with a disco theme, lists an extensive dress code on its Web site and on a sign on the door. Clothing that it prohibits includes ripped or torn jeans, shorts past the knee, flip-flops, work boots, yellow Timberland boots and, for men, no sandals, hats or sleeveless shirts. Smith said the company has never received complaints that the dress code at Power Plant Live! is discriminatory.

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