Police seek suspension of Velvet Rope's alcohol license

Department says 50 officers needed to control unruly crowd locked out of rap event

February 25, 2010|By Peter Hermann | Baltimore Sun reporter

Baltimore police on Thursday made an emergency petition to the city's liquor board, asking it to immediately suspend the alcohol license of the Velvet Rope nightclub after authorities said hundreds of patrons holding tickets were locked out of an oversold show and nearly rioted on a downtown street.

Police said it took 50 officers, including several from the tactical unit and assistance from a helicopter, to control the unruly crowd that showed up to hear rapper Yo Gotti. Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said angry concert-goers stormed the doors of the Redwood Street club and were forced back by security guards who indiscriminately sprayed Mace from a fogger into the crowd.

Guglielmi described the incident as a "public disturbance" and said that "without police intervention, it posed a public safety risk to hundreds of people visiting Baltimore." Police said angry patrons were throwing cones and street signs, but officers made no arrests.

Liquor board Chairman Stephan Fogleman, who received the police letter from a top commander in the midst of another hearing on a Fells Point nightclub, said the best his panel can do is order a hearing in 10 days. He said he cannot suspend the license and that the club will be allowed until a hearing is scheduled.

The club's managing partner, Tracye Stafford, called the show a "promoter's nightmare" and said "it came down to the promoter selling too many tickets and not being honest." But she said there were 600 patrons who each paid $25 or $40 for tickets, and that the club has a capacity of 949. She said the promoter had capped the audience size to 600 but sold more tickets.

Stafford apologized to people who could not get in and said refunds would be issued. She said there are no large shows scheduled in the near future.

Stafford said the concert went on inside without incident, and she would only say that what happened outside "was not a riot." She said a call from a reporter was the first she had heard about a disturbance and she said a city police major told her the show could continue.

"Why would he allow us to keep the event going if there were problems?" Stafford said.

Police have targeted troubled nightclubs, bars and liquor stores by padlocking them for up to a year, but asking for an emergency order to effectively shut down a large nightclub is unusual. Guglielmi said Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld consulted with Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake before seeking the order.

Authorities have targeted downtown nightspots after last summer, when a series of violent attacks, including shootings and robberies, scared residents and tourists from the Inner Harbor and north to Mount Vernon and Mid-Town Belvedere.

"Baltimore has a vibrant and growing night time entertainment industry," the mayor said in a statement, "and we cannot allow a few irresponsible business owners to put the public at risk."

The Velvet Rope opened last summer in the old Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Company, a Romanesque Revival-style building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the latest of several nightclubs in that spot in recent years, and it attracted some well-known hip-hop artists.

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