ST. PETERSBURG — The club calls it Top Shelf Tuesday. All you can drink for $20. By closing time, capacity crowds blocked the street outside while the scent of marijuana wafted from inside Scene Premium Night Club, a popular hip-hop spot at 211 Third St. S.
Amid the city's booming nightlife, police say Scene has a reputation for lax security. Some clubs have their own security. Some hire off-duty officers. Scene's owners did neither well, according to police.
It all came to a head early Wednesday morning when gunshots fired inside the club sent hundreds stampeding for the exits.
Officers, weapons drawn, rushed into Scene and found two men shot and wounded just after 2 a.m., police said. They also found marijuana, shoes and cell phones scattered around the club. No arrests were made.
"Scene has been one of our biggest challenges," said St. Petersburg police Maj. Sharon "DeDe" Carron. "We're trying to ensure that they have their business and at the same time we're trying to work with them to make sure that everyone is safe.
"We've been disappointed by their lack of progress in addressing our concerns."
Downtown has thrived since the city pushed closing time back to 3 a.m. in May 2010, but keeping all those new bars safe has been a challenge. Officials say the bar corridor absorbs too much officer overtime, saps police resources and exhausts the cops who keep the alcohol-soaked crowds safe — often from each other.
But St. Petersburg's popularity also depends on it being known as a safe nightspot. Wednesday's shooting threatens that status.
"I am not going to sit idly by while there is a risk of the reputation to the safety of downtown St. Petersburg," said Mayor Bill Foster. "Once you get a bad reputation, it's hard to recover."
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The two wounded men found inside the club were St. Petersburg residents Deonte R. Archer, 23, and Kendric D. Stephens, 22.
Stephens, who was shot in the back and leg, was hospitalized but is expected to live, police said. Archer was shot in the right leg and was treated and released from the hospital.
No suspects have been identified.
Archer told officers he was walking up some stairs when he was pushed from behind. He and the assailant started to fight. Then several gunshots were fired from somewhere inside the club while 800 to 1,000 people partied, police said.
They left in a hurry. Officers confiscated 27 grams of marijuana found in small plastic bags left throughout the club, police said. A "strong odor of marijuana lingered in the air … hours after the shooting," read a police report.
Afterward, officers reported several observations about club security: no off-duty officers were hired; patrons were being allowed in through the side doors; and a doorman told police they were told not to search patrons that night.
"It suggests a lack of due diligence on their part," Carron said.
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But security issues with Scene go much further back.
Richard Fabrizi, Tony Amico and radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge Clem opened the club in August 2010 inside the former theater of American Stage, across from the downtown Publix.
Top Shelf Tuesdays were popular. But police worried about the crowds spilling out onto Third Street S after last call. Officers also smelled marijuana inside Scene every Tuesday, Carron said, and repeatedly warned management about drug use. Eventually, the club agreed to hire off-duty officers and to search entering patrons.
But that cooperation soon ended, Carron said. The bar's manager told the major that the extra security was keeping customers away. A man who identified himself as Fabrizi once asked officers to leave the club, police said. Scene stopped hiring off-duty officers in December, according to police, and as of last month still owed the city $2,555.59 for the officers it had hired.
Fabrizi did not return a call for comment Wednesday. Clem's producer said he had no comment.
In the past, the city tried to let bars voluntarily pay for off-duty officers to defray the city's costs. But that effort fell apart.
So last month city leaders ordered up an ordinance that would force bars to hire off-duty officers based on occupancy. It's modeled after a Tampa ordinance, and St. Petersburg's mayor hopes the City Council will soon consider it.
"We tried to do it with voluntary compliance and that didn't work," Foster said. "Some businesses downtown automatically hire off-duty officers because they care for the safety of their patrons and others don't."
The major said her officers will focus even more on Scene in light of the shooting Wednesday morning.
"Since obviously there were weapons in the club," Carron said, "we need to have a higher presence in the club."
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.