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Ky. Pub Dress Code Bias?

The American Civil Liberties Union is objecting to a ban on sports jerseys, sleeveless shirts and backward baseball caps in Louisville's new nightclub district, saying the dress code is biased against blacks and poor people.

The city has given the developer of the month-old Fourth Street Live power to enforce its dress code three nights a week during special events along the block-long stretch of restaurants, bars and shops. During those nights, the city street is blocked off, and bouncers decide who does or doesn't meet the dress code.

"If the city is going to turn over a public street to a private entity, they need to make sure it remains open to the public," said American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky executive director Beth Wilson, who wore a cap backwards during a protest Monday in the district.

The Rev. Louis Coleman led about a dozen protesters in the demonstration.

"When you look at the team shirts, the names on those shirts, it's an urban thing, it's an inner-city thing being restricted," said Coleman, who is black.

Coleman and his protesters met with representatives of developer Cordish Co. on Monday and offered a compromise that would reverse the ban on many items, except sagging pants, bare midriffs and "gang-related clothing."

Unless a settlement is reached, Coleman said, anyone offended by the dress code should take their money elsewhere.

Zed Smith, who manages properties for Cordish, said the dress code has nothing to do with race. "It's not just the jerseys we're singling out," Smith said. "It's a range of dress that's acceptable."

Also, Smith said, the company is within its rights to enforce a minimum standard of dress on nights when the street is blocked off.

Fourth Street Live, a $75 million project, replaces a former indoor mall that blocked off the street. The area used to be Louisville's central downtown shopping district before the advent of suburban malls, and has been the target of a number of revitalization efforts.

Jay Blanton, a spokesman for Mayor Jerry Abramson, said the permit granted to the Fourth Street Live developer is no different from those given to other groups that use public property for special events. He added that there has been no evidence so far of discrimination.

Tim West, who is black, said he was asked to leave Fourth Street Live when it opened last month because his shorts were too long and he was wearing a baseball-style jersey. He said he has no intention of returning for special events.

"I'm done until they figure out what they want to do," West said. "If you look presentable, there shouldn't be a problem."

By Brett Barrouquere