If you kill the music in Downtown Punta Gorda, you kill the spirit of Punta Gorda.
That was the sentiment of the hundred or so people who packed the City Council Chambers, lobby and parking lot on Wednesday morning for the City Council discussion on loud music in the downtown business district.
The issue came about at the request of one local resident who had filed multiple complaints with the city on noise levels in the commercial area.
“It is not our intention to ban the music from the downtown,” said John Chalifoux, who lives in the Historic District near the intersection of West Olympia Avenue and Harvey Street. “Our noise ordinance needs to be revised to protect the rights of the citizens in our city. No one’s lives should be disturbed by any business.”
Of the city’s 31 noise complaints since 2018, Chalifoux has filed the most as an individual, with 11 total, five of which were just this year.
Punta Gorda’s downtown music scene goes beyond the city limits, having become a regional draw for surrounding areas like North Port and Sarasota, even as far as Tampa.
“I live in Port Charlotte and have since 1988,” said Nikolai Shadows. “Punta Gorda has become a huge thing now. This where we go to hang out, where we have fun. I have friends that come from Tampa to have fun down here because it is more fun than Tampa to them. If you change what it is, there is going to be nothing here.”
Currently, the city allows business owners to “police themselves,” a decision made by a consensus of local business representatives several years ago, according to Wednesday’s agenda documents.
New restaurants have come into the area since then. Because of that, the City Council directed city staff on Wednesday to meet with the restaurant owners in the commercial district to reaffirm the self-policing policy.
Many local musicians, bar owners and local music fans spoke up against any changes that would affect the downtown music scene, as well as the idea that the City Council would even consider having the discussion in the first place.
“A discussion lots of times leads to action,” said Michael Riley, founding member of local band The BoogieMen. “I think you (the City Council) know that music is what brings life to this town.”
Lee Richardson, owner of Leroy’s Southern Kitchen, asked the City Council to think about the restaurants and their employees.
“I am thankful this is a discussion and not a vote today,” Richardson said. “We survive on this live music because that is what draws many of our people to our establishments, especially (during the slow season) from now until next November, December.”
In the city’s current noise ordinance, no cut-off times are listed for music in the downtown area. The code does state that it is unlawful for any person to make, cause or permit noise or sounds that are offensive beyond the location of where the sounds are being created.
Jody Belcher plays and sings with Southbound and The BoogieMen. He was recently playing a gig at Carmelo’s Italian Ristorante (321 W. Retta Esplanade) where they received a noise complaint at 7:30 p.m. on a Wednesday.
“The manager comes up to me frantic that the music was too loud because we got the police called on us,” Belcher said. “We were wrapping up for this event. It looks to me like they are calling the police on any musician, anybody in town that is playing midweek and it is absolutely ridiculous. It will affect businesses and the draw of (new) businesses in our area.”
Punta Gorda representatives were surprised by the community’s response.
“This is just a discussion,” said City Manager Howard Kunik. “There is no ordinance change on the agenda item. Music in the central business district is a vital part of our city.”
“We are not shutting anything down,” said Mayor Nancy Prafke. “There have been a lot of social media chatters going on that totally misconstrued things.”
Since the agenda was released on Friday, area residents have been speaking out on Facebook against any sort of new ordinance that might restrict music in the downtown area.
Punta Gorda resident Steve Lineberry went as far as to create a petition that amassed over 4,800 signatures in only a few days.
“I wanted to find out what other people thought (and) if the music is too loud you call the police and get a paper trail going,” Lineberry said. “But no one calls the police and says, hey we are really having a great time. Consider the wishes and needs of the petitions supporters. Don’t let the music die in downtown Punta Gorda.”
The City Council did consider those wishes on Wednesday — not one council member supported the idea of restricting music in the downtown business district.