It's the last dance at Amphitheater

Published May 23, 2007

The party's over at one of Ybor City's biggest nightclubs.

The Amphitheater, a three-story, 12, 000-square-foot discotheque with a spinning dance floor and world-class guest DJ roster, has announced it will close this weekend.

"Come be a part of history and experience one last 'Amp moment' as we let it all loose for one final blowout, " reads a post on the 1, 000-capacity club's Web site.

What the site doesn't mention is a lawsuit filed in Tampa's circuit court May 9 alleging that the club and its owner, John Santoro, owe more than $1.8-million in back mortgage and taxes. Santoro didn't return calls to his cell phone Tuesday.

"Everyone's like, 'Is it really closing?' " said Tampa promoter Paul Gamache, the Amphitheater's marketing director. "It's a big shock to the dance community, because realistically, other than the Hard Rock, we're the only place that's brought out major entertainment when it comes to dance music."

There's a big sendoff on Saturday night, and a smaller, final party scheduled for Sunday. It's a quick and inglorious demise for one of Ybor's most storied and popular clubs.

The Amphitheater, located at 1609 E Seventh Ave., opened in 1998, when Santoro partnered with strip club king Joe Redner to open a glittering new discotheque in the heart of Ybor.

When his request to have the Amp zoned for alcohol sales was denied by the Tampa City Council, Redner sued. Eight months later - and after $2.5-million in renovations - the council changed its mind.

Santoro bought out Redner's stake in the club in 2002. Since then, he's booked some of the world's best DJs: Tiesto, Paul Oakenfold, Paul van Dyk, the Crystal Method and even Tommy Lee. In October, he branched into festivals, organizing Sunset '06, an electronic music festival at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg. Still, the Amp hasn't had the smoothest run of late.

Late last year, Club Hedo, another longtime Ybor night spot owned by Santoro, shut its doors and is now known as Paradise Ybor. In September, the Amp's manager, Stewart Skipper, became the first person arrested under the city of Tampa's tougher noise ordinances.

Gamache said crowds have been down all spring, especially among college students.

The final blow appears to have been the May 9 lawsuit, in which Wachovia SBA Lending alleged Santoro is delinquent on its mortgage payments, and sought to foreclose.

Santoro may have another club in the works. The Amp's Web site teases "Le Femme Ultra Lounge ... coming soon." Gamache says that club is slated for downtown Tampa.