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St. Petersburg residents divided over club's music

Some residents of John Knox apartments hate the tunes from their new neighbor, the Big Catch, but others do not.

By PAMELA GRINER LEAVY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 26, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- As the band Rumor Of Ken played on the patio at the Big Catch, 1100 First Ave. N, the rock 'n' roll could be heard a block away. It was the old Blondie tune One Way Or Another. Sitting in her grandmother's apartment at nearby John Knox apartments, 1035 Arlington Ave., 17-year-old Cassandra Imran called the Police Department Thursday night about the music.

"I am sitting here waiting for my fiance to pick me up and I hear the music," she said. "I like rock music, but that's way too loud."

"That's bull----," said her grandmother, 67-year-old June Schatz. "It doesn't bother me."

Located in the heart of the emerging Dome District entertainment area near Tropicana Field, the Big Catch pumps out live music every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. It moved to its new home in February from its old location farther east.

According to the city noise ordinance, outdoor music, within acceptable volume limits, is permissible until midnight on those nights. John Knox apartments, a 14-story complex for low-income seniors, is a house divided. Some folks like the music. Some hate it.

Disgruntled residents have called the police at least 13 times this month. They have hired St. Petersburg attorney Keith Ringlespaugh and recently presented a petition, signed by 92 of John Knox's approximately 300 residents, to City Council members.

"We want a curfew of 11 p.m. on the patio," said Kay Patterson, 63, a John Knox resident since 1999 and leader of the protest effort. "Make them stop playing till 12. Force it to 11 p.m. We could live with that."

One resident who signed the petition added a comment that she went to bed at 7 p.m. and the drums woke her at 9.

The music is so loud, residents have complained, that even in this cool evening weather tenants on the south side of the building facing the Big Catch have to shut their windows and turn on the air conditioning in order to sleep.

"It's a shame we elderly people have to put up with this," said Mary Sheridan, 81, an "on and off" John Knox resident for the past 15 years. "It isn't fair. I know there is a noise ordinance, and they don't adhere to it."

Gary Robbins, a sergeant and supervisor in the downtown community policing unit, responded to the latest complaint Thursday night. Robbins brought with him a hand-held device that measures noise. Standing on a sixth-floor balcony, he monitored the music at the Big Catch for just more than 8 minutes. While the music, especially the drumbeats, could be clearly heard, Robbins found no noise violation from the Big Catch. Under current city rules, until 11 p.m., noise can reach up to 70 decibels. After 11 p.m., 60 decibels is the limit. His meter registered between 58 and 62.

However, at Robbins' request, managers at the club turned the volume down. The Big Catch is trying to be a good neighbor, Robbins said. The managers turned their stage around so it faced west, away from the John Knox apartments. They apologized to neighbors for violating curfew on St. Patrick's Day and letting the music go until 1:30 a.m.

Thursday night, John La Budde, manager of the Big Catch, came over to the apartments and told the officer that "I'm going to have them turn it down a lot. I'm not going to be the bad guy."

He added, "We're going to do whatever it takes to make people happy."

But the underlying problem, said Robbins, is that downtown St. Petersburg is changing. "The quality of life for people at John Knox has remained unchanged for a number of years," Robbins said. "All of a sudden they are being directly affected by the growth of downtown to which they have never been before. They have been used to going to bed at a certain time without hearing noises."

Carol Evans, 62, has lived at John Knox for more than eight years and welcomes the change.

"People have forgotten what it's like to be young and enjoy life," she said. "I think music only enhances life, whether it's R&B, classical, Hawaiian. There's no shouting, yelling, fighting, just a place they have their music. I think we ought to leave them alone."

"We do live in the city," said Mary Jones, 69, also an eight-year resident. "It doesn't annoy me, and there's other people it doesn't annoy either. I take into consideration some people don't feel well or have trouble sleeping anyway. Once I am asleep you could drop a bomb and I wouldn't know it."

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