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Property owners trying to oust Scene Nightclub in St. Pete

The city’s Nuisance Abatement Board is adding its weight to the property owners’ effort to evict the club.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times (2012)

The city’s Nuisance Abatement Board is adding its weight to the property owners’ effort to evict the club.

ST. PETERSBURG — After years of problems with the law — including a shooting and constant allegations of illegal drug activity —the city and the owner of the Scene Premium Nightclub property are trying to shut down the business.

The property owners have initiated an eviction of the tenants. On Wednesday, the city's Nuisance Abatement Board made a decision that could help the owner's case: a unanimous vote to close the nightclub.

Despite the ruling, the management company, JC Enterprises of Tampa, will be allowed to continue operating the club because it just leases the property.

In their pleas before the board to take action, members of the St. Petersburg Police Department described an environment within the club that has long been out of control.

One detective who testified detailed five instances in which he bought drugs at the club.

In September, he said, he went to the club one night around 1:30 a.m. He walked to the VIP section and spotted a man on a stool smoking a large joint. Next to the man was a member of the club's security. As the detective came over to buy drugs, the bouncer helped the man off the stool.

The officer told the board that, in front of the bouncer, he bought more than three grams of marijuana for $60.

In December, the detective returned one night when the club was hosting a rap battle. He paid $200 for two oxycodone and 10 hydromorphone pills.

The marijuana smoke in the club was so thick, police said, that people across the street at Publix often complained they could smell it.

"We are putting our officers at great risk by allowing that club to just continuously operate with narcotics billowing out the front door," testified Sgt. Randy Morton, who is in charge of the department's downtown team. "It is a huge problem."

The nightlife in downtown St. Petersburg picked up in 2010 when the city extended closing time to 3 a.m. Scene, at 211 Third St. S, was one of the area's biggest with 15,000 square feet. On some nights, police said, more than 600 people packed inside.

On Feb. 8, 2012, someone fired a gun inside the club, wounding two men and sending hundreds running for the door.

Police commanders complained that owner Richard Fabrizi had stopped hiring off-duty officers, wasn't searching patrons and wasn't doing enough about the pervasive marijuana.

After the shooting, Fabrizi vowed to bolster security, but police said he did little.

Problems at Scene helped motivate the City Council to consider a law that would require clubs to hire off-duty police officers for security. Instead, the city forced bars that wanted to stay open late to pay for a permit.

The managing partner of the company that owns the property, Kenneth Heretick, told the board Fabrizi often promised to change things but never did.

"It just seems like there was no effort on his part, other than lip service, that he was going to solve the problems. And I was hopeful the new tenant was going to eliminate those concerns," Heretick said. "I don't know what else I could have done short of hanging out in the club and phoning the police myself."

Heretick did not dispute the board's order.

Late last year, Fabrizi sublet the business to JC Enterprises. Both Morton and Heretick told the board the new company promised to correct the issues.

Still, nothing improved.

Fabrizi, said Thursday he believed JC Enterprises had hired an attorney and intended to fight to keep the business. He refused to answer more questions.

City Council member Karl Nurse, who represents the club's area of downtown, supported the board's decision Thursday.

"I think it's a good thing," he said. "There are limits to how much grief you can cause without consequences."

Times staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this report.

Property owners trying to oust Scene Nightclub in St. Pete 03/14/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 11:27pm]
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