Sunday, June 24, 2018
Public safety

St. Petersburg gives the former Scene nightclub six months to stay clean of drugs, crime

ST. PETERSBURG — Despite attempts by the city to close the former Scene Premium Nightclub, a new owner has been given a chance to keep the doors open.

The club, now called Onyx, has reached an agreement with the city on security issues after the Nuisance Abatement Board voted to close the troubled facility in March.

The agreement is the first to stem from a new law the City Council passed in December to help clamp down on bars and restaurants where police are frequently called to halt trouble. Taxpayers spend about $13,000 each month on police overtime for officers to handle problems at downtown bars.

The agreement with Onyx can be revoked if problems persist.

"This is a six-month test," said Chief Assistant Attorney Mark Winn. "It's in their benefit to comply."

Tamika Coley, the club operator, agreed.

"We intend to comply with that," said Coley, who is also the girls' basketball coach at St. Petersburg High School. "We'll address it to prevent and minimize problems the best we can. Police can't be everywhere."

After years of problems — including a shooting and constant allegations of illegal drug activity — the city forced club leaders to hire two to four off-duty officers to provide security.

Other requirements in the six-month agreement include:

• Police can inspect the club at any time.

• Licensed and bonded security personnel must be hired to work inside the club. Employees must use a metal detector to check patrons for weapons and scan their identification into a database.

• No smoking is allowed inside. Surveillance cameras will record common areas, and alarms will be installed at exits not staffed by security officers.

In December, the City Council passed a citywide law requiring bars or restaurants that want to serve alcohol past midnight to apply for a $100 permit.

The permit can be suspended for many reasons, including providing inadequate security on more than two occasions in a calendar year or having a violent incident.

In February, the city suspended Scene's permit when minors were found inside.

If a second violation occurs, the police chief can revoke the after-hours' permit for one year.

But police have seen recent improvements at the club.

"At this point, since there does appear to be an effort on management's part to make the changes needed to comply with the law, we have no issues with the club continuing to operate," said police spokesman Mike Puetz. "Obviously, we will monitor the things closely to make sure the situation at the club does not relapse."

Late last year, JC Enterprises of Tampa sublet the business from owner Richard Fabrizi.

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

Coley, 39, took over JC Enterprises of Tampa from her father, Johnnie Coleman, in December, state records show. Although she is listed as the leader, Coley said Coleman shares duties with her.

Coley said she is committed to improving the nightclub's reputation.

"We're going to run the business like any other business," she said. "We've done everything that should be in place."

The security agreement is not connected to the decision to close the club reached in March by the Nuisance Abatement Board.

The property owners also have initiated an eviction of the tenants. Those proceedings have been stayed in court as mediation is required among the city, building owner and tenants.

Controversy had swirled around Scene for several years.

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.

In their pleas before the board to take action, police described an environment within the club that has long been out of control. One detective testified that he bought drugs at the club five different times.

City Council chairman Karl Nurse, who represents the club's area of downtown, supported the Nuisance Abatement Board's decision.

He said he isn't against the club operating as long as they comply with the law, adding: "It's reasonable to give them a chance."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

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