Concerns about new Clark Avenue
business raised at community meeting

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, August 2005) A community meeting to look at a  proposed new business in the Clark-Metro neighborhood in actuality became a forum for residents’ and business owners’ broader concerns about neighborhood safety and crime issues.

At a July 20th meeting at Redeemer Lutheran Church on 30th and Walton, neighborhood residents, area business owners, staff of neighborhood service agencies and city officials had the opportunity to comment on a proposed entertainment complex and restaurant planned for the front half of the Family Dollar building at 2704 Clark Avenue.

La Copa Restaurant and Entertainment Complex owner Gennie Rodriquez said she hopes to create a Hispanic cultural complex a concept she feels will fit well with the concept of a Hispanic Village envisioned for the neighborhood. The La Copa Restaurant and Entertainment Complex will offer space for community meetings, wedding receptions and fundraisers for community organizations, in addition to a dance club that will target 20-something Hispanics.

The business plan calls for the facility to be open Wednesday through Saturday from 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.  Family Dollar will continue to run a retail store in the rear of the building during day. A wall is being built to separate the two businesses. A four-year lease with an option for three additional years has been signed with the building’s owner Jerry Zahler. La Copa has applied for a liquor permit for the facility and must receive a variance to operate a night club in the facility.

Clark Metro Development Corporation Executive Director Steve Kruger said that the development corporation is not for or against the business, but stressed that any business coming into the neighborhood must have a “sound business plan and community support.”  He says the lease and the application for a liquor license both say the facility is a nightclub. He says a community center, hall and resource center are welcome, but a liquor license and a nightclub are “another story” that raises “too many questions.” He said the community meeting was set up to address some of those questions and concerns raised by residents, second district police officers, city of Cleveland officials and the councilman’s office.

The major issue raised was that of how a nightclub would impact nearby residents and businesses. The reaction of area stakeholders was mixed – some in favor of the facility and some against. The major argument against the nightclub was that it would have an impact on surrounding neighborhood in terms of quality of life issues such as loud music, traffic blocking and fights and general roudiness. Lieutenant Frank Bolin of the Second Police District says it has been his experience that a night club in a residential neighborhood will increase those types of calls regardless of how well it is run and how much security it has. “Residents can’t sleep when people come out of the club making noise.”

A woman expressed concern that already overburdened police would have more calls to distract them. She wondered if the nightclub would make an already bad problem in the parking lot across from her house even worse.

A number of people who were for the new complex felt it would add a needed security presence in  the neighborhood until 2:30 a.m. They argued that the Family Dollar facility is dark at night, attracting drug addicts and prostitutes.

La Copa’s owner Rodrigues says she is negotiating with the landlord to provide more lighting in the back alley behind the building as well as on the exterior of the building to increase the security of the grounds. She said the facility would have security cameras in the alley and at the front entrance. She said security officers in the facility would have arrest powers. She said the club’s exterior security would report any drug activity in the parking lot to police, and that  Second District police would have access to the security camera recordings of any suspicious activity. She noted that Detective Michelle Rivera would be in charge of coordinating three Cleveland Police Officers and four security personnel to take care of the club’s security needs.

Drug dealing and prostitution in the neighborhood seemed to be of greater concern to many residents and business people at the meeting than the quality of life issues. Many residents feel their security is severely compromised at night when the neighborhood is an open drug market.

Neighborhood businesses along W. 25th and Clark Avenue also spoke of the problems created by drug addicts and prostitutes. One local business owner described his efforts to rid drug addicts of hiding places where they can shoot up. He said he cut a number of trees down behind area businesses with a chain saw. He has pepper sprayed mattresses. He recounted that when one of his employees threw a garbage bag into an empty dumpster the noise startled two addicts who came out from behind the dumpster where they had been shooting up heroin. One business owner says he won’t venture out after 10 p.m. without a bulletproof jacket. Several business owners also said they felt the presence of another open business at night would improve neighborhood security.

Neighbors on Walton and W. 30th say they sweep up needles, condoms and other drug paraphernalia each morning, and are afraid to venture out at night. While there were three drug busts that netted 14 arrests the day before the meeting, those arrested were already  seen back on the street, according to residents.

Area merchants and residents called for more attention to the serious drug problem in the neighborhood. The merchants and some of the residents welcomed the new club as a possible ally in the battle against drug dealers and prostitutes. Merchants called for pulling together to fund a neighborhood security patrol. Business owners called for the new business to join their efforts to stamp out drugs and prostitution from the neighborhood. Residents were on the fence, some for the new club, some against, and some undecided. Many wondered whether the club would increase or decrease the risks and trials they already face from drugs and prostitution in their neighborhood.

“Clearly there was no consensus tonight, “ said Abraham Bruckman, Vice President of Commercial Development for Clark Metro Development Corporation. Ward 14 Councilman Cintron Jr. says the decisions he must make around the variance and liquor permit for La Copa will be difficult ones. He says he will not make them alone but based on input from other city officials, the police, neighborhood residents, organizations and businesses.


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