Over hotels' protests, liquor license renewed for Velvet Rope

Protest renewal dismissed by liquor board

April 22, 2010|By Brent Jones, Baltimore Sun reporter

Baltimore's liquor board renewed the license of a downtown nightclub at a hearing Thursday, dismissing claims by several surrounding hotels that the bar is the site of late-night noise and unruly behavior.

The Velvet Rope had been targeted by police and a quasi-city agency two months ago after a near-riot following a hip-hop concert and a shooting near the club, in the 200 block of E. Redwood St. Although the club's licensee reached an agreement with the police commissioner to curb the problems, three of the surrounding hotels led a petition to have the Velvet Rope's liquor license revoked.

But liquor commissioners ruled that the petition did not meet the requirement of having at least 10 signatures of residents in the immediate vicinity of the establishment. Three witnesses who testified during the hearing said they worked at the neighboring hotels and did not live near the club.

Commissioner Stephan Fogleman also said the board wanted to give the club a chance to operate after the licensee negotiated the new security plan with police.

"We're going to give them the requisite time under that contract to perform," Fogleman said. "There'll be penalties, consequences if they breach."

An agreement between the Velvet Rope and the Downtown Partnership was also announced at the hearing, ending months of turmoil between the sides. Members of the Baltimore-branch of the NAACP had accused the Downtown Partnership of targeting the club because of its mostly black clientele and not giving the same scrutiny to other bars. The NAACP and radio personality Larry Young held a protest in front of the Downtown Partnership headquarters three weeks ago.

A representative of the Downtown Partnership denied the accusation and testified at a liquor board hearing last month that the organization goes after any establishment that disrupts the visits of out-of-town guests.

Tracye Stafford, managing partner of the Velvet Rope, said after the hearing Thursday that she would work with the hotels if any issues arose. Representatives from the Hampton Inn, the Residence Inn and Springhill Suites all said that their customers have been inconvenienced when police are forced to close down Calvert and Redwood streets to deal with traffic when the club lets out.

"I would love to continue to have open dialogue with them," Stafford said. "We're just going to have good business, do good events and have solid security. With any nightclub, you have an issue. But you have to understand, you have four nightclubs in the area. You really don't know where the problems are coming from. We might have the same skin color but that doesn't mean we're all coming from the same place."

Brent.jones@baltsun.com

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