A Long Beach record store owner is hoping to open the city's first dedicated all-ages music venue but has ran into hurdles with city regulations.
Andy George, who has owned and operated Toxic Toast Records since late 2014, has been trying since the store’s inception to open the Toxic Toast Theatre adjacent to the store at 755 Pine Avenue.
The venue would hold between 300 and 400 people, he says. Shows would cater to various genres and provide a safe space for young bands and fans to get into the music scene. An opening concert with MC Lars is planned for Sept. 11, with tickets selling for $12 online and $10 at the record store.
"There are some places that will sometimes have all-ages shows, but they're not dedicated venues," he said. "Long Beach is very much dominated by the bar scene, and these bars are not all-ages. I want to give people under the age of 21 a place to go to see concerts. More importantly, we need a place for younger bands to be able to play. To think that the local music scene will survive starting at 21 is naive. Lots of bands start in high school, and they get better by playing shows."
However, parking restrictions have put the venue project to a dead halt. Last December, he found out that in order to apply for a Conditional Use Permit to allow for live music in assembly hall standing-room events, he needs to provide 65 parking spaces.
George referred to Long Beach's Downtown Redevelopment Plan, which he said states that any business under 6,000 square feet does not need to have parking required.
"I thought the idea of the redevelopment program in downtown Long Beach was to trump parking restrictions," says George, who lives in Long Beach. "I don't need parking restrictions for my record store, but as soon as I need a CUP, that figures parking requirements. It's just very confusing."
No surrounding businesses or lots have agreed to rent out parking space to him, he said.
"The redevelopment plan is created to allow businesses not to have a parking lot with the understanding the businesses will share the metered street parking," George says. "Our shows take place after the meters are off and parking is free. There is more than enough parking on the street but the city won't let public street parking count for CUP permit processes. Also many bars/restaurants with live music are not held to parking restrictions cause they are labeled as a bar or restaurant."
George, who has contacted his city councilperson to no avail and worked with other departments in the past for other permits, says he has not submitted an application for a CUP yet because of a non-refundable $8,000 fee, and he feels the city would not approve him at this time without the parking. The application goes through a voting process, he says.
Kevin Lee, a city spokesperson with the development services department, confirmed in an email a CUP and parking are required for assembly spaces.
"An assembly space needs a ratio of 20 parking spaces per 1000 square feet," Lee explained. "Currently, Mr. George has not provided information as to how he will provide said spaces. The City has worked with Mr. George to try to find solutions to this, however Mr. George has not submitted a CUP application to date for the City to review."
Lee added there is "no hesitation" for the city to open an all-ages music venue but the proper measures must be taken. George would also need to apply for an entertainment permit through business licensing, Lee said.
Currently, George plans to apply for temporary use permits for concerts in the meantime, including the MC Lars concert.
However, he says, temporary use permits are not sustainable for his business model since they can be costly and are limited to one every 10 days. Businesses are also limited to how many total temporary use permits they are allowed each year, he added.
"We're using them right now to create our own report and present to the city what impact we have on parking," he said. "It's just like the city is setting this up for failure, not just for me but for anybody who wants to open up a music venue. There's just no parking anywhere."
George said he has had offers from property investors to purchase the building, but he did not feel ethically right being responsible for the area turning into condominiums. He also said the price would not be worth the sweat equity he and his team have put into the venue.
He and a silent partner spent about $500,000 on the renovation of the space, including plumbing, floors and rafters.
"We put in a lot of time, effort and money to make this a place that we would want to play with our own bands," he said.
George believes the venue, which would be open from 7 to 11 p.m., could have a positive impact on the downtown area, which is currently comprised of bars, restaurants and retail shops.
He says he was inspired by the Glass House venue in Pomona, which also has its own record store. That area was considered unsafe, but since the opening of the Glass House, it has turned around, he says.
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"We're taking an area that's kind of in a transitional point and trying to positively affect the neighborhood by making it safer," George says. "I feel like we've already had a positive impact on the block and we have directly influenced other businesses to come to this block.”
He added patrons would come from all over to the venue, especially since Long Beach is centrally located between Orange County and Los Angeles. He believes most commuters would use public transportation.
He also said there would be tax benefits for the city from ticket and record sales, as well as his customers visiting nearby establishments.
George vowed to keep fighting until the venue is opened.
"The longer it takes for us to get these permits and the longer the space is going without generating any money, that just brings us closer to having to sell the building and walk away," he said. "That's not what we want to do."