Saturday, December 16, 2017
Public safety

St. Petersburg nightclub owner vows to bolster security after shooting

ST. PETERSBURG — After two people were shot in his club, the owner of Scene Premium Night Club vowed Thursday that he'll work with police, beef up security and crack down on pot smokers.

"We wish it didn't happen and we'll do everything in our power to make sure it doesn't happen again," said owner-operator Richard Fabrizi, "even if that means I have to close the place down."

The club at 211 Third St. S was packed when a brief scuffle led to gunfire about 2 a.m. Wednesday, according to St. Petersburg police. Officers found two men with gunshot wounds and marijuana, shoes and cell phones left behind by hundreds of patrons who fled.

No arrests have been made. The men survived their wounds.

The crowd was there for Top Shelf Tuesday, the club's most popular night, where revelers dance and drink all they want for $20. But it was also a headache for police, who complained that crowds blocked Third Street and that the smell of marijuana emanated from inside the club.

Police also complained about Scene's attitude toward security, saying the club stopped hiring extra off-duty officers, stopped searching guests, stopped cooperating with police and wasn't cracking down on drug use.

Fabrizi said the heavy police presence hurt business. He said his 15,000 square-foot club is the biggest downtown and needs big crowds to make money.

"I have to do 300 to 400 people for the club to look good," he said.

He also said his staff was surprised by the size of the crowd the night of the shooting: more than 600. He locked the doors but people still sneaked in.

But 36 hours after the shooting, Fabrizi met Thursday with police commanders and agreed on this security plan:

• Scene will hire two off-duty officers who will patrol inside the club. The city will continue to provide officers to patrol outside.

• Club security will again pat down guests and use handheld metal detectors. Fabrizi admitted that he had stopped doing that because of complaints. Scene draws many black patrons on Tuesdays, some of whom complained that the measures weren't in effect when more racially mixed crowds came to the club on weekends. "Hopefully they won't be offended," Fabrizi said.

• The club will only allow smoking in the courtyard. Anyone caught smoking marijuana will be banned from the club.

• Step up the dress code. No more flip-flops and athletic shorts.

The city's downtown bar scene has thrived since closing time was moved back to 3 a.m. in May 2010. It has also drained police resources keeping downtown's weekend crowds under control. But Scene poses a special problem for police because its busiest night is a weeknight. The force currently assigns up to 10 officers to patrol outside Fabrizi's club.

"He was very much ready to do whatever he needed to do to make it a safe environment," said St. Petersburg police Maj. Sharon "DeDe" Carron after Thursday's meeting. She said Fabrizi also agreed to pay the city the $2,555.59 he owed for off-duty officers hired in the past.

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