City Closes Dance Club Over Problems With Permits

The New York Times

By ERIC LIPTON | Published: May 7, 2001

Twilo, a popular Chelsea nightclub, was shut down early yesterday, at least temporarily, after the police and building inspectors raided the club and evicted hundreds of patrons, saying that several of the club’s building permits were missing or invalid.

The move comes as the Giuliani administration intensifies its long-running battle against a handful of Manhattan dance clubs that city officials say are havens of drug use and occasional violence.

No one at Twilo was arrested in yesterday’s raid, police officials said.

Instead, officials shut the club, at 530 West 27th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues, after determining that its certificate of occupancy and place of assembly permits had not been properly issued or maintained. Officials also said that the club’s fire protection plan was not up to date and that it had not gotten required approvals for first-floor renovations.

A Department of Buildings spokesman said the six-year-old club, known for its electronic music and dancing that lasts until well after dawn, would not be allowed to reopen until the violations were resolved.

”They are shut down until further notice, indefinitely,” said the spokesman, Paul Wein, adding that a June 21 court date had been set.

Peter R. Sullivan, a lawyer for the club, said the violations were technical and called the club’s closing unjustified. ”Absolute guaranteed it will be reopened,” he said.

The enforcement tactic used yesterday reflected a strategy by the city to no longer issue or renew permits to Twilo and other troubled clubs, unless ordered to do so by the court. That means that if a permit expires or needs to be amended, even for a relatively minor inconsistency, the city may refuse to do so and then shut the club down, Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington said.

For example, part of the justification for closing Twilo yesterday, officials said, was that its basement assembly permit was invalid, at least in part, because it was issued to Sound Factory, a club that used to operate at that location.

Mr. Washington was not ready to declare a lasting victory against Twilo, saying that the city’s action could be overturned in court.

”It is now their move,” Mr. Washington said, referring to the club management. ”This is not over by no stretch of the imagination.”

The Giuliani administration has been trying to close Twilo since at least November 1998, when the city, citing the drug overdose of a patron, filed a lawsuit declaring the club a public nuisance. City officials contend that clubs like Twilo and the Tunnel, another West 27th Street establishment, do not do enough to prevent the use and sale of drugs like ecstasy and GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyrate.

But the clubs have just as vehemently responded that they are doing their part, hiring private security officers, including some who work undercover, to try to prevent drug use and violence. Mr. Sullivan said the fact that the state courts have allowed Twilo to stay open despite the lawsuit was proof that the club was well managed and dedicated to preventing drug sales.

City officials, meanwhile, said that the evidence of the severity of the drug problem at Twilo is on display when the club is open: management hires a private ambulance to wait outside, ready to take patrons who have overdosed to hospital emergency rooms.

The Giuliani administration’s dance club enforcement effort was stepped up after April 9, when Terrence Davis, a 16-year-old who had been ejected from the Tunnel, was stabbed to death about two blocks from that club. A fire broke out at Twilo on a weekend night about a month ago, but the club was reopened the same night.

Mr. Sullivan said the city’s efforts were misguided. ”It is very sad that the city continues to hide the absence of a policy concerning drug abuse by the dancing public by demonizing Twilo,” he said.

Twilo regulars, some of whom learned of the news yesterday on the club’s Internet site, seemed to agree with Mr. Sullivan. ”Almost all clubs have fire code violations,” one patron wrote on the site’s message board. The patron called the code violations an ”excuse to ensure that there are no bumps in the road in Giuliani’s Disney-gentrification plan to have NYC become an ultraconservative suburb.”

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