Volume 21, Number 43 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | March 6 - 12, 2009

5 people stabbed outside Leonard St. club

By Julie Shapiro

Five people landed in the hospital early Saturday morning after two separate fights broke out at a rowdy Tribeca club that has long attracted neighbors’ complaints.

Police descended on a roiling crowd at Club Deco shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday. Inside the club at Leonard St. and Broadway they found one victim slashed on the head and another slashed on the neck. Outside on the street, they found two people stabbed in the back and another stabbed in the chest.

“It’s just chaos,” said Peggy Eliot, who watched the melee from her window at 366 Broadway. She counted 13 police cars and one van, along with an ambulance.

Police arrested Mario Olmedo, 21, of East Harlem, in the two slashings. Police are looking for a suspect in the stabbings, described as a 21-year-old black male, 5 feet 11 inches, 170 pounds, wearing a red shirt.

First Precinct commander Anthony Bologna said the club, previously called Peppers, has long brought an unruly crowd to the neighborhood.

“I really want to see that place go,” Dep. Inspector Bologna told Downtown Express. “I would like to see it gone or under control.”

Scores of nearby residents are hoping for the same thing, and they could soon get their wish. Jordan Barker, an associate with Newmark Knight Frank, said the club’s lease ends in the second quarter of 2009 and the building’s owner will not renew it.

“They don’t even want a club there,” Barker said. The owner is open to any daytime use, including a fashion showroom or medical offices, Barker said.

Newmark has been saying for months that the owner would not renew the lease.

If a new tenant does not surface, the owner will allow the space to sit vacant rather than let Deco remain, Barker said, citing the recent violence.

“That’s fantastic,” Nicola Clayton, who lives near the club at Franklin St. and Broadway, said in a phone interview. “We are totally at our wits’ end.”

From her window, Clayton said she has seen police searching cars for drugs and keeping crowds at bay with billy clubs. Three men in their 20s once tried to sell her crack as she made a late-night trip to a deli, she added. Clayton said she was coming home two weeks ago at around 1:30 a.m. and about 10 clubgoers followed her into her building, saying they wanted to get away from the chaos and police on the street.

“We’re all horrified and we can’t wait for the club to be shut down,” said Maria Mancini, who has lived at Franklin St. and Broadway for 29 years. “It’s impossible to live here on weekends. You’re afraid.”

Mancini described the noise and violence as “nothing less than mob rule” over her neighborhood.

While residents hope Deco’s expiring lease will end what they say is the club’s siege of Leonard St., they don’t want to wait until then for something to change. Residents turned out en masse to a Community Board 1 meeting last week, prior to the stabbings, to urge the State Liquor Authority to shut down the club by revoking its license — or, at the very least, not grant the new license one of the club’s owners is requesting.

“The enforcement authorities haven’t taken this seriously enough,” said Karen Stamm, a lawyer who lives nearby. “Are they waiting until someone gets killed? What does it take to make them take this seriously enough to really deal with it head on?”

Bill Crowley, spokesperson for the S.L.A., said the state was investigating the stabbings to determine if the club owner was responsible. He would not put a timeframe on the investigation, but he said that if the owner were culpable for the violence, the S.L.A. could revoke the liquor license.

However, the streets outside the club have seen violence before — including gunshots and assaults — and the club has maintained its license.

“It’s very difficult for them to close a place down,” said Bologna, of the First Precinct. “It’s not that easy.”

Part of the problem is that when violence happens outside the club, it is hard to implicate the club’s owners, Bologna said. The club’s security often ejects patrons onto the street when fights start, essentially washing their hands of the problem, Bologna said.

In the past, when Bologna spoke to the club’s management, their attitude was, “These things are happening in the street — don’t come to me about it,” he said.

The security hired by the club has improved, Bologna said, but it could be better. Olmedo, the man arrested last weekend, should not have been able to enter the club with a razor blade, Bologna said.

The club’s liquor license is currently in the name of MHS Entertainment Corp. and runs through the end of October of this year. A newer owner, Eros Inc., operated the club under a string of temporary licenses last fall and wanted a permanent license, but so far the S.L.A. has not granted it.

Community Board 1, in an advisory opinion last week, strongly opposed granting Eros a license, citing the history of violence at the club. Some residents think Eros is currently running the club, even though MHS is the only one licensed to do so.

Peter Flores, a consultant to Eros, said MHS was running the club but Eros was involved as well. Flores declined to comment on the recent stabbings.

“I wasn’t there, so there’s nothing for me to comment on,” he said. MHS does not have a listed number and Flores refused to provide any contact information.

Flores would not say when the lease on the space was up, but he said it was not true that the club would have to leave soon.

With reporting
by Albert Amateau





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