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Published: Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The Tucson City Council voted unanimously last Wednesday to recommend that the Arizona Liquor Board deny a liquor license transfer to the Avenue Bar and Grill, a new business proposed by former North on Fourth nightclub owners Patrick Nash and Andrew Sommers.
The decision came after a heated city council meeting Oct. 6 at which several citizens objected on grounds of safety and parking concerns.
No one, not even Nash or Sommers, showed at City Hall to protest the official thumbs down. Though the Arizona State Liquor Board has the final say, the businessmen have been effectively cut off.
North on Fourth, a former hip-hop night spot at 536 N. Fourth Ave, has been closed since building owner Tony Vaccaro, who also owns neighboring Brooklyn Pizza Co., decided not to renew North’s lease and expand his new project, Sky Bar.
In an Aug. 24 letter to the city council, Sommers and Nash detailed their next idea: a roughly 10,000-square-foot restaurant and music spot to be built down the block called Avenue Bar and Grill. The yet-to-break-ground project would combine 522 and 526 N. Fourth Ave., currently the Creative Ventures craft mall and an adjacent parking lot. The new facility would feature flat screen TVs, music stages and historic Fourth Avenue-themed décor.
Adding a “unique fine dining” restaurant to the neighborhood excited some and infuriated others, even though Nash and Sommers insisted that their new lease forbids the use of the property as a night club.
“I don’t have very much trust that if they opened a new place it would be any different than North was, and I don’t want to work near North anymore,” said Mariah Hoenig, a Pima Community College student who has worked at Brooklyn Pizza, next door to North, for 3 years. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been working here and I had to go outside and call the cops because people were getting slammed into the street.”
Megan Algeri, a waitress at Bumsted’s, said she’s noticed a positive change on Fourth Avenue since North closed. Bumsted’s stands next to where Nash and Sommers want to build Avenue.
“I wrote a protest letter, and I’m glad they didn’t get their license. It’s a 10,000-square-foot building. That’s huge to have North’s kind of customers,” she said.
Maebelle Reed, owner of Plush, another bar at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street, said friendly meetings with Sommers and Nash didn’t quell her fears.
“It was very difficult to believe that if they couldn’t figure out how to do it in the eight or nine years they were in the one spot, why (would) moving to another spot make any difference?” she said in a phone interview Thursday.
Reed said she would have considered supporting the transfer if Avenue had filed for a restaurant liquor license which would limit the profits that could be made from liquor sales.
“There are things that happen on the street that are collectively everybody’s problem,” Reed said.
“It was almost like (North was) a magnet for violent activity,” she added.
A report compiled by the Tucson Police Department in July cited over 530 incidents at North between 2001 and 2009, though that was not enough to lose TPD’s support for the transfer.
Sgt. Victor Garcia II of the Downtown Operations Division wrote to the city, “I have come to (Sommers and Nash) with suggestions that I felt would improve situations and found them to be immediately implemented. The direction they are heading … will help to diminish some of the negative issues that can accompany bars on 4th.”
Eddie Martinez, a doorman at IBT’s, a block away from where North operated since 2001, said, “When I first came here, that bar was bad. But over the years, they’ve straightened it up.”
Martinez has worked at IBT’s for six years.
“A lot of people are still thinking about the way it used to be,” he said. “You (can) actually walk in there and feel comfortable now.”
David Hall has lived one block off of Fourth Avenue since 1987. He supported the transfer after talking with Sommers and Nash.
“I like living a block away from Fourth Avenue. It’s the most urban environment in Tucson,” Hall said. “It’s never been a nice, quiet neighborhood. It’s full of college rental houses. If you don’t like that, you should never move to West University.”
Lori Boston, president of the West University Neighborhood Association, through which the Fourth Avenue promenade runs, wrote to the city council: “The transfer will not alleviate the problems, but only exasperate them as the bar will increase in size from 4,000 square feet of space to 10,000.”
TPD’s 22-page report listed at least 316 arrests at 536 N. Fourth Ave. A scan of the report incident codes revealed the vast majority of calls were assaults and disorderly conduct, though there was at least one homicide in August of 2006 at that address.
In their letter to the city council, Nash and Sommers claimed that some of the incidents started or occurred at other addresses.
Also on file were multiple violations including underage drinking in 2005, serving more alcohol than the law allows in 2007, three counts of failure to follow identification procedures and three counts of selling alcohol to minors in 2009.
Bruce Hungate, owner of the Dairy Queen at Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street, objected to Avenue based on the July TPD report, which Sommers and Nash claimed contained incidents from other bars.
Cheri Wiens, whose letter complained of public urination by bar patrons, was also against recommending a license to Vaccaro’s Sky Bar, which passed the council’s graces Wednesday night.
Neither Hungate nor Wiens could be reached for comment.
A separate letter of opposition addressed to Ward 6 Council Member Nina Trasoff requested a denial and displayed 10 signatures of residents and businesses, including Bumsted’s, the Chocolate Iguana and Delectables Restaurant & Catering.
Trasoff moved to postpone the council’s decision after a horde of angry citizens protested at the Oct. 6 meeting.
Nineteen other letters of support from area residents and merchants were filed with the Tucson City Clerk. Endorsements came from Maloney’s Tavern, The B Line café, and Antigone Books.
Nash could not be reached and Sommers declined to comment other than to say that the men will continue to work with the Tucson City Council and that they don’t want to “piss anyone off.”
The recommendation for denial will be sent to the Arizona State Liquor Board; Nash and Sommers will be able to appeal if the decision is not in their favor.