Baltimore police petition to close nightclub

February 26, 2010|By Peter Hermann |

Baltimore police made an emergency petition Thursday 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 police helicopter, to control the crowd that showed up late Wednesday night to hear Southern 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 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 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 to remain open 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."

She said 600 patrons paid $25 to $40 each for tickets, and that the club has a capacity of 949. She said the promoter had limited the audience size at 600 but sold more tickets.

Stafford issued an apology to anyone who could not get in and said that refunds would be made. No large shows are scheduled in the near future, she said.

Stafford said the concert went on inside without incident and 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 asked.

Police have targeted problem 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 III consulted with Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake before seeking the order.

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

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