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Club Blue Seeing Red

The owners of Blue are suing the city in federal court, claiming they've had their constitutional rights violated. And they want a few bucks too.
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On the very first day we launched Unfair Park, former Dallas Observer music editor Sam Machkovech reported about a confrontation that took place between Mayor Laura Miller and Blue owner Marshall Armstrong during a Deep Ellum "town hall" meeting that took place in late February at the Gypsy Tea Room. "I just want you to know the number one crime generator in all of downtown Dallas that spills over to Deep Ellum is Club Blue," the mayor said to the room, which was full of Deep Ellum club and restaurant owners, who applauded the comment.

Armstrong, however, took umbrage with the sentiment--and of course he did. As Sam wrote, how'd you like to be told you're the cause of crime and that it's taking place inside your joint when it's going on outside your doors? It's a story that's been often repeated--most recently on October 1 in a Dallas Morning News story about a proposed $116 million development next to Blue. The city's not interested in giving any tax incentives to the club's landlords, Rita and Lawrence Sweeney, the story says, because the club's become such a problem for the city. "They didn't perform. They promised a fine dining restaurant and didn't deliver. They created the worst crime-generating project in downtown right now," the mayor said in the story, in which readers were reminded that the Sweeneys got $1 million in tax breaks from the city to rehab Blue. "I don't think the Sweeneys should get one red cent for anything they do now or in the future." (A city official wonders if Blue would have brought the suit had the Sweeneys gotten the $12 mil in tax incentives they wanted. "Probably not.")

Well, turns out the owners of Blue, which include Keith Black and who operate under the name Noir Brothers Restaurants Inc., are so unhappy about what's been said about the place that on Friday, they filed suit against the city in federal court. In the suit, which is 26 pages long, they accuse the city of violating their "rights, privileges and immunities secured to it by the Constition of the United States." They also claim the city's process for granting its dance-hall licenses is unconstitutional. And they want the city to fork over a small fortune.

The suit says that on March 27, 2003, Blue got its dance hall license form the city for the purpose of operating a dance club at 1929-1933 Elm Street; at the same time, the suit says, the owners also got a late-hours permit, "entitling it to remain open until 4 a.m." Based on those licenses, it says, the owners took out a 15-year lease on the building and invested $3.5 million in renovations before opening on July 1, 2003.

Two years later, the suit says, the city refused to renew Blue's late-hours permit, "based...on the fact that there were residences within 1,000 feet of the club," according to the city. Then "relations between [Blue] and [the city] deteriorated because more crime was being reported as coming from the club." In August of this year, the lawsuit claims, the city issued Blue a citation "for an alleged violation of its dance hall license at 2:20 a.m. when in fact [Blue] denies that it was in such violation." After that, the club's owners claim, Dallas police Chief David Kunkle suspended its dance hall license for 30 days. A copy of that letter, sent from Kunkle to Black on August 18, is indeed included in the initial complaint.

Noir Brothers allege in the suit that the city has "repeatedly used the dance hall license ordinance to discriminate against minority-owned businesses or businesses with a minority clientele"; the suit says its patrons are primarily "Afro-American, Hispanic and Asian."

The owners want many things, including the city found guilty of violating its constitutional rights, but they also want $12 million from the city, because, they claim, as a result of the city yanking its permits--"unreasonable and unconscionable," they say--Blue's relationship with its landlord "soured."

The city has not yet been served with the suit. --Robert Wilonsky

Update: The city now has a copy of the suit, but City Attorney Tom Perkins was on his phone at 3:30 p.m. and could not be reached for comment. The mayor was available, and she is not changing her position on the club. She tells Unfair Park, "[Central Division] Chief Brian Harvey always updates me about this club, and it's the biggest problem every single weekend. Crime bleeds over to Deep Ellum while we're tring to fight the crime perception down there, and Harvey tells me we're sending 60 percent of our downtown patrol officers--anywhere from 15 to 20 a weekend night--down there at 2 a.m. just because of what's going on over there. That is not why we gave them over $1 million in tax subsidies, to create a giant crime and resource problem for the city. I mean, we gave them money to create this problem."

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