Persistent Issues at Venue Nightclub Prompt Council Review

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Wednesday March 11, 2015

In 2013, when the owners of Venue Nightclub, previously located in Colchester, approached the city council seeking a liquor license for their new location on Market Street, the council had questions. Their primary concerns involved safety, mainly in regard to potentially intoxicated patrons exiting onto South Burlington’s busy roads, and the club’s proximity to Rick Marcotte Central School. However, after Police Chief Trevor Whipple, Fire Marshal, Terry Francis, and the city’s zoning department gave the all clear, the liquor license was granted and Venue Nightclub opened for business that fall.

Since that time, the South Burlington Police Department has been called to the club for numerous issues related to intoxicated patrons and fights, including a stabbing incident which occurred in the parking lot in October of 2014. These incidents were outlined in detail by Chief Whipple at the council’s March 5, 2015 meeting, in advance of the club’s liquor license renewal slated for April.

According to Whipple, Venue has repeatedly violated both Vermont liquor laws and South Burlington City ordinances. Whipple’s overarching concern is the rate at which these events have been increasing since January 1, and the impact on the safety of patrons who frequent the club and the firefighters and police officers who respond to safety concerns.

Some of the incidents noted in Whipple’s report included inappropriate contact between patrons and dancers at a Chippendale show, and escalating fights between patrons where officers had to call for backup. There have been repeated incidences of patrons being over-served alcohol to the degree that officers had to intervene, and in one instance they had to transport individuals to the hospital for detox.
In addition, violation of the building’s capacity limits has been an issue. Although zoning regulations limit the club to 230 patrons, Venue has reported having up to 600 patrons in the building at a time.

As a result of the high volume of calls to the police department, Whipple recommended a number of measures the club could take to improve safety and security. First, he suggested security staff should undergo professional training. In addition, the staff who serve liquor should attend face-to-face training with the Department of Liquor Control to learn how to identify someone who should no longer be served. Whipple also made the following recommendations: compliance with occupancy limits should be a mandatory condition of any license; better lighting at entry points of the club should be installed; all crimes that take place should be reported to the police immediately; and an active head count should be kept at all times. He also noted that the police chief or his designee should be notified of all shows happening at Venue at least seven days in advance. That way, if there is concern for patron or officer safety based on past performances, officer coverage may be mandated, at the club’s expense.

Chief Whipple presented his recommendations to the council for consideration as potential conditions to the club’s liquor license renewal.

Venue Nightclub owner Mike Couture and his aunt and business partner, Carolyn Jones, were present to offer their perspective. Couture cited his confusion over their occupancy limit, stating that he thought the fire safety calculation of 607 was the maximum number of patrons allowed in the building. City Manager Kevin Dorn confirmed that the capacity set by the zoning administrator is, in fact, 230. Couture said this number will make it difficult for Venue to bring in big shows and, thus revenue, since they are only open, on average, six nights per month.

Regarding the recent escalation of troubling events, Jones said, “We’re just as concerned as you are...we’ll do whatever we need to do to get done what needs to get done. Our goal is to make it a safe place and we do try.”

City Council Chair Pat Nowak said her primary concern involved safety. Noting intoxicated patrons leaving the premises, Nowak said, “This has to be a big concern for us in South is a huge liability for all involved. I don’t need to tell you that.”

Nowak added that she would like to consider the parameters Chief Whipple outlined and that councilors would take some time to let the information sink in. They will discuss the topic further at their next council meeting.

“We want you to have a successful business,” Nowak said, “nothing will be done in a rushed manner.”

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent