Updated on June 17 at 5 p.m.
CRESWELL – The Fourth of July Celebration that has been promoted for Sunday, July 4, at TJ’s Restaurant and Lounge appears to be over after the restaurant’s current owner told The Chronicle on Thursday afternoon that “there will be no organized event of any kind in the TJ’s parking lot, and the police are going to enforce that.”
Tom Nelson, the current owner of TJ’s, said Thursday that the restaurant and bar will instead be closed July 4, 5, and 6. “There will be no beer, no license, no anything,” Nelson said. “We’re going to let my staff who are well overworked and tired have three days off.”
Nelson has lived in Creswell for the past 15 years and has been owner of TJ’s for 35 years. He is in the process of selling 49% of the restaurant and bar to new owners, including Bob Jensen. Nelson will remain a majority owner after the sale, he said.
Monday, Creswell’s city council unanimously approved Jensen’s request to serve alcohol in the parking lot and requested a special events application for July 4 for the purposes of hosting a holiday celebration at TJ’s, noon-11 p.m. Jensen is not affiliated with Nelson Restaurant Corporation, the licensee name in which the alcohol application form was applied under, Nelson said.
The proposed event has been promoted on social media as an opportunity for “the largest gathering” of “patriot” groups, all invited to gather in Creswell.
Nelson said he was unaware of any planning or promotion for July 4 activities at the restaurant, outside of a “family-style beer garden” and has since spoken to the city manager, the sergeant and the OLCC and has “pulled” any requests.
“TJ’s is not represented by Robert Jensen,” he said.
Jensen said Thursday that the restaurant sale is not yet final, and "until then, Tom's still the owner and he gets to make those calls." He declined further comment.
Jenson still could still host the food trucks and fireworks viewing in the field next to the restaurant, Nelson said, but TJ’s wouldn’t have any part in that.
Monday, during Creswell’s City Council meeting, Jensen appeared to gain approval for his plans. The council voted to approve the outdoor liquor sales unanimously discussing the event that has drawn interest from paramilitary, anti-government extremists.
Jenson previously told The Chronicle that the event was non-political.
Monday, Jensen was approved for a “Temporary Use Permit for an Annual Licensee,” which would have allowed him to expand the on-premises sales of alcohol on July 4 from noon-11 p.m. The sale and consumption would have been within a fenced perimeter, inside the parking lot.
Councilor raised concerns around spacing, parking, and fireworks following Lane County Sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Denham’s “letter of recommendation” and cautionary comments at the meeting.
Denham said he gave his approval for the license on the premise Jensen would take the necessary public safety measures to monitor capacity limits and has had no complaints filed against him in the past. Planning for controlled capacity limits was an issue of concern, Denham said in the recommendation letter.
“The applicant has told me that he will have monitors working in the area to make sure that all the alcohol is consumed within the area, and it doesn’t leave that space,” said Roberta Tharpe, city recorder.
Councilor Alonzo Costilla asked Denham if he had a “game plan” to ensure that public safety measures are met.
“What will you guys do if you’re concerned? I’m concerned,” Alonzo said.
“We can’t make a big game plan until we have a better idea of size and scope, other than what we see posted on social media,” Denham said. “But obviously, anything that happens could grow larger than the capacity for it to be there, so that’s what we’ll be watching.”
The fact a decentralized manner of organization on social media has made it difficult to plan, Denham said, and he’s concerned about the flyers calling for larger groups of people to travel to Creswell.
Councilor Kevin Prociw noted that TJ’s parking area would be a challenge, and customers would need to park elsewhere. “With all that parking space being used, where are people parking? Are there any concerns about traffic or congestion in the city?” TJ’s is located at the I-5 interchange, Exit 182.
Denham said he had been told two different things regarding July 4 parking in the old Super 8 lot, which adjoins TJ’s parking lot. He said further communication is needed to know if there is permission from the property owner.
Community member Theresa Brubaker wrote to councilors with her opposition to the parade, fireworks, or temporary licensing to TJ’s restaurant, in fear of the “extremist hate group” it could attract.
Denham said the fireworks are planned to be set off at Bald Knob where they can be viewed from the field between TJ’s and the I-5, with food carts, vendors and a play area. Mayor Amy Knudsen said she was worried about fireworks near the dry field.
“By default the property owner is responsible if aerial fireworks start going off without a permit,” Denham said. “I believe that he will use his alcohol monitors to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Meanwhile, the reconstituted Creswell Chamber of Commerce, which is hosting the fireworks display from the old Bald Knob Mill property, is calling on new members and volunteers.
Board members sent an email to area businesses last week, stating:
“We are actively working on ... a plan to re-open our office with limited hours, reaching out to local businesses and introducing ourselves, updating our website, soliciting comments/suggestions from our members, and exploring opportunities to support educational and work training efforts.”
Erin Tierney contributed to this report.