Wheelchair user claims discrimination, sues nightclub

Lack of elevator, buzzer for accessible door noted

February 14, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore woman sued the sleek, new Redwood Trust nightclub yesterday, saying the three-floor dance club and sushi bar discriminates against wheelchair users because there is no elevator and the one handicapped-accessible entrance is locked during business hours.

In her lawsuit, Carolee Laird noted that the Redwood's owners spent more than $2.5 million to turn a former bank building at the corner of Calvert and Redwood streets into an ornate, modern club. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, argued the renovated building should fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"I was definitely impressed with what they had done with the nightclub," said Laird, 27, who has spina bifida and is unable to walk. "But they spent all this money, they did all these renovations, but when it came to accessibility, they did the bare minimum."

One of the building's owners said yesterday that the former Mercantile-Safe Deposit & Trust Co. building has been made accessible to wheelchair users. During the extensive renovations, the owners had to seek permission from Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation to create a barrier-free entrance on Calvert Street from two large windows.

"The club met all the Baltimore City codes," co-owner Paul Chrzanowski said. "We do have access. My mom's in a wheelchair, and she's been down to the club twice."

Chrzanowski also noted that all of the club's amenities are available on the main floor. He said he could not respond to the lawsuit in more detail because he had not yet received a copy of it.

Redwood Trust gained attention after its opening late last year because of the lavish renovations and its push to be one of the few downtown night clubs permitted to keep its doors open until 4 a.m.

Laird, who visited the club in mid-December, said there was no buzzer on the one accessible entrance to alert club staff that someone was waiting outside. She also contended that the tables and bar on the main floor are too tall to accommodate wheelchair users, and the bathrooms are too small.

"It really comes down to, you can't spend $2.5 million renovating a building and leave two-thirds of it inaccessible," said Baltimore attorney Andrew D. Levy, who represents Laird.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to order Redwood Trust to install an elevator and door buzzers and to remove all other barriers in the club that would hamper wheelchair access.

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