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Owners defend nightclub

By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS
Published June 29, 2007


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Empire Nightclub owners Ken Grossman and Joel Brewer drove home a message at a recent Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association meeting: They want nothing to do with neighboring Club Fuel.

The Tampa Police Department included them in the same report about the impact the hip-hop megaclubs have on crime.

A sign emerged two weeks ago warning visitors to beware of dangers surrounding the 1900 block of E Seventh Avenue, which both clubs share.

Neighbors say both clubs draw volatile crowds that erupt into afterhours violence.

But there are some differences.

Fuel has six outstanding criminal court cases dealing with noise violations, the most in Ybor. The club's alcohol permit could be revoked because of the violations.

Fuel is suspended from hiring off-duty police officers to help with security, because owners owe $16, 586 to the Tampa Police Department.

Fuel has never spoken with neighbors or the Times.

"I'm not going to shy away from any question, " Empire's Grossman told residents Monday.

The neighbors thanked Grossman and Brewer for being candid, but didn't shy away from tough questions: What about the May fight in Empire that resulted in a fatal shooting just a block away?

Since the shooting, bouncers are trained to defuse fights, and to separate the agitators, by kicking them out through different doors, Grossman said. He doesn't allow the DJ to play profane lyrics.

But Empire and Fuel have a few similarities. Both have seen violent, even fatal incidents.

Also, Brewer, Empire's co-owner, owns the building that houses Fuel. Neighbors wondered why he kept Fuel as a tenant if he didn't approve of what was going on there.

Brewer wouldn't speak much about the issue, saying it is in litigation. But he did say Fuel is close to eviction and he does not plan to renew its lease. Fuel will be out of that building in a year.

On the other hand, Brewer wants to keep Empire afloat. He and Grossman signed up to join the association Monday.

"Look, " Brewer told residents, "we want to be good neighbors."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 226-3354 or azayas@sptimes.com.

[Last modified June 28, 2007, 07:59:25]


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