Richard T. Zalinsky has submitted an application for an alcoholic beverage pouring license for 2 Proctor St., the former Platinum Lounge location. But, because of City Council’s extended moratorium on the Platinum Lounge and Prime Time Lounge locations, city officials are not processing the application.
After the Nov. 10, 2013, shooting death of Johnnie L. Benton, 25, at the Primetime Lounge, on Northside Drive West, and with shots fired that same night at the Platinum Lounge, the city obtained court orders and closed both clubs that week. The Platinum Lounge, in a shopping center across from the Statesboro Herald offices, had been the scene of the fatal shooting of Akeila Roschell Martin, 32, on Aug. 19, 2012. Another person was injured in both shootings, and both killings remain unsolved.
After further court action in one case and a City Council decision in the other permanently revoked the clubs’ licenses, the council on March 4 approved a six-month moratorium on new alcohol licenses for these locations. Before it would have expired, the council extended the moratorium another six months, to the first week of February 2015.
“The moratorium attaches to the locations and it also attaches to licensees who had licenses at those locations,” City Attorney Alvin Leaphart confirmed this week.
The purpose of the moratorium has been to give the city time to adopt a thoroughly revised Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance “to take those factors into consideration in deciding whether to grant an alcohol license,” he said.
But work on the revised ordinance has stopped and started through 2014. City officials instead made new use of the current ordinance after a death at another nightclub, Rude Rudy’s in University Plaza.
After Michael Gatto, 18, died from injuries sustained from hand-to-hand violence there on Aug. 28 and police charged bouncer James Grant Spencer, 20, with felony murder and aggravated battery, the city compiled evidence of alcohol ordinance violations at the club. Former Rude Rudy’s owner Jonathan Starkey then agreed to surrender his alcohol license and never apply for another in Statesboro.
At two recent meetings, the city also issued warnings or brief suspensions to 18 other businesses for selling alcohol to people under age 21, all under provisions of the existing city law, before again returning to discussions of the proposed new one. During a work session on that topic after the Nov. 4 regular meeting, city officials revealed that they had received the 2 Proctor St. application.
The Farm House
With an occupational tax application submitted Oct. 7, Zalinsky proposed a “restaurant/bar” called The Farm House at that location. Along with the tax form, he turned in an application to sell beer, wine and liquor by the drink.
Zalinsky has not decided everything about the restaurant’s format, but it will not be a nightclub, he said in a phone interview Friday. The Farm House would, as he pictures it, have sports on television and host events related to major games.
“It’s going to be more along the lines of like a restaurant and a sports bar where we can hold different game events and things like that,” Zalinsky said. “It’s not going to be a nightclub.”
Zalinsky does painting and bodywork at an auto body shop and previously owned a vinyl siding business, Statesboro Quality Siding. Operating a restaurant and bar will be completely new to him, he said.
Aware of what happened at the Platinum Lounge, he said he understands the city’s concerns but does not think it is fair to deny him a license because of the location.
“You can’t stereotype everybody, and it’s not fair to judge me on a prior establishment that was there,” Zalinsky said.
He said he has no connection with the previous operators but did know the property owner. The building is owned by J&A Fields LLC.
Zalinsky said he believes security personnel would be important for safety and suggested he would bring in off-duty police officers for the special events.
Informed that the current moratorium will end in February unless City Council extends it, Zalinsky said he is willing to wait, but not indefinitely. Eventually, he would have to look for another place, he said.
For now, however, he said he will talk to his attorney about sitting down with Leaphart to discuss the situation in the next week or two.
“I’m prepared to wait and I want everybody to be safe. … But at the same time, I think if we do it right, things can work out good and people can have a place to go and enjoy some time and watch different events,” Zalinksy said.
If the application moved forward, he would have to pay a $3,750 fee for the license to sell beer, wine and liquor by the drink.
Why a moratorium?
The reason a moratorium is needed until the ordinance is revised, Leaphart said, is that the new Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance will give the city the means to consider both an applicant and a location more closely before granting a license.
Under the current ordinance, Statesboro grants alcoholic beverage licenses automatically to applicants who meet certain minimum requirements, such as being legal U.S. residents and not having serious crimes on their records. Leaphart called these “bright-line criteria.”
“Most alcohol ordinances you see have some sort of two-step process,” Leaphart told City Council. “You meet some minimum requirements, and you’re not kicked out. Our ordinance is, you meet the minimum requirements and you get a license. There’s no second-tier analysis that takes place, you know, should there be a license here, should this person be granted a license?”
The new ordinance he has drafted, based on those in Athens and Savannah, would set up a second stage of discretion, after the applicant meets the minimum requirements. At that stage, a hearing will be held to consider the location’s past and its neighborhood setting, as well as the applicant’s character and history in any business involving alcohol.
“All of those factors can be taken into consideration at a hearing and determination can be made,” Leaphart said in an interview. “Our present ordinance doesn’t allow us to weigh or consider any of those factors.”
At the Nov. 4 workshop, he suggested the council needed to return to basic questions about the ordinance after some previous sessions got bogged down in particulars.
Further discussion of the alcohol law is not on the agenda for Tuesday. The 4 p.m. workshop that precedes the 5:15 p.m. regular council meeting will instead be devoted to budgeting considerations for 2015–16.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.