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Clearwater to own troubled nightclub

CLEARWATER — For 40 years, Johnie Blunt has been the owner of the Blue Chip nightclub.

On Monday, after years of negotiations, he'll turn the night spot over to the city, along with two adjacent properties he owns.

The club, run out of a blue building at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Tangerine Street in the city's North Greenwood community, has been a constant source of friction for police, who say they've visited the establishment thousands of times for everything from fights to noise to shootings.

"The city wants it and I'm 80 years old. It's time for me to retire and get out of it," Blunt said Friday. "I'm going fishing."

The city will pay Blunt $525,000 for the property and up to $8,300 in closing costs. The majority of the money is coming from a community development block grant. An additional $59,000 will come from a state brownfields fund and federal dollars, said Gerri Campos Lopez, Clearwater's Economic Development and Housing director.

Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne said the city doesn't have any immediate plans for the site.

"We intend to have a broad range of conversations with nonprofits and residents in the area," Horne said.

He said some in the community want to see the building torn down. Others think the building is structurally sound and should be used for something else.

Katrina George has lived in the North Greenwood area all her life and runs a program for teen girls. She said closing the Blue Chip will lead to positive growth in the community.

"But I also feel that the city needs to be extremely conscious of what it puts in its place," George said.

This isn't the first time Clearwater has purchased a troubled property in the North Greenwood area.

In 2003, the city helped purchase Maccabee's Bar, which is a few blocks from the Blue Chip on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Residents complained about noise, fights and patrons causing trouble outside the establishment.

Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services, with funds from Clearwater and NeighborWorks America, purchased Maccabee's for $125,000. In addition, the city forgave $45,100 in business loans.

The site is now the home of a business center, which includes a Head Start child care center.

Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein sees the purchase of the Blue Chip as "the closing chapter of a book."

"If I was an author, I would title the book The Last Bar," Klein said. "The closing of the Blue Chip closes a chapter of thousands of calls that involve everything imaginable that a police officer would have to deal with."

As for Blunt's retirement, Klein said: "Forty years is quite a history and I wish him all the best. But it's time to move on."

Blunt's doing just that. Sunday, he held his last party in the Blue Chip, giving his patrons free drinks.

"I'll miss it," he said. "But it is time for me get out of it."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

Clearwater to own troubled nightclub 06/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 4, 2008 1:01pm]
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