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Decision delayed on 1901 Club

The nuisance board postpones a hearing after questions arise about who is responsible for activity at the Central Avenue club.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Central Avenue's 1901 Club didn't have to face any music last week.

After several months of consistent police attention on the nightclub, owners Victor and Lorraine Ronchetti were summoned Wednesday before the city's Nuisance Abatement Board.

They face several thousand dollars in fines if the board declares the club a nuisance, based on more than 30 police allegations of illegal activity there or in an adjacent parking lot since January.

But after 40 minutes of fencing with lawyers, the board postponed the hearing until Oct. 11.

David Neville, the attorney for owners Victor and Lorraine Ronchetti, argued that his clients had not been given enough time to prepare a defense because they had not been notified soon enough of the hearing.

Questions also emerged about the property's chain of leases and subleases and who exactly is responsible for responding to the allegations of illegal activity.

The uncertainties were enough to persuade a board majority to put off the hearing. Only members Greg Pierce and Brian Longstreth favored proceeding on Wednesday, and Pierce scolded the board for delaying.

"I think this board has given the owners 30 more days to let this be a problem to the neighborhood," Pierce said.

The remark brought a sharp response from Neville. Saying that Pierce evidently had made up his mind about declaring the club a nuisance, Neville said he would ask that Pierce not be allowed to participate in next month's hearing.

Pierce retorted that he just wanted the board to take action that day instead of next month.

The 1901 Club was previously called the Platinum Vault, a rave club the City Council ordered closed last year. The Ronchettis then opened the 1901 Club.

Since then, police frequently have had to monitor streets and parking lots outside the club because of large, sometimes boisterous crowds that congregate after a Friday night teen party.

But police complaints about drug sales and other illegal activity brought the club before the board.

The board has the power to levy fines and recover investigative costs. It also has the power to close a nuisance property, according to city ordinances. But that option has not been used for several years after a court ruled the city had to pay lost rent to an owner whose property the board closed for a year.

A Miami case that could allow nuisance boards to start using closure again was argued before the state Supreme Court last year. The court has yet to hand down a decision.

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