La Copa agrees to hold public meeting
by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, August 2006) Residents, community organizations and businesses concerned about the plans and operations of a proposed club, La Copa, at 2704 Clark Avenue may soon get an opportunity to learn more at a public meeting. After a July 24 Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA) hearing, club owner Gennie Rodriguez’s attorney Joe Dubyak told community members that they would host a public meeting on Monday, August 7th at 7 p.m. inside the proposed club.

For the second month in a row, the Board of Zoning Appeals advised Councilman Joe Santiago, a supporter of the variance for the club, and the ownership of the club to hold a public meeting. While Gennie Rodriguez handed the board an attendance sheet with 19 signatures from a meeting she said she held on July 20th, most of those present at the BOZA hearing had not received a flier for the meeting.

Diane Zelmer of the Redeemer Crisis Center, a facility within 500 feet of the proposed club, said Redeemer Crisis Center had not received a notice after having asked to be informed about a meeting. Brent Thompson of Let’s Wrap, a business at W. 25th and Clark Avenue across the street from the proposed club, said he also did not receive a flier. Members of several Ward 14 block clubs in attendance at the BOZA hearing also reported that they had not received notice of the meeting.

The Plain Press spoke to both Councilman Joe Santiago and Gennie Rodriguez just days prior to the proposed meeting, and was told that a date and time for the meeting was not yet available.  Both Santiago and Rodriguez in separate conversations promised they would inform the Plain Press of the date and time of the community meeting when it was known. The Plain Press never received such a call.

Members of the Board of Zoning Appeals expressed concern that the La Copa team did not give those concerned about the proposed nightclub a chance to dialogue about their concerns, and called on La Copa to meet with neighborhood stakeholders.

BOZA member Ozell Dobbins II said, “There needs to be a community meeting with this group.”  Dobbins suggested that Councilman Santiago and Clark Metro Development Corporation get together to plan the meeting and send out the notices.

BOZA member Tim Donovan said the neighborhood development corporation could be neutral and still sponsor a meeting so those with different viewpoints would have a chance to sort out if a compromise position was possible. “That did not happen. So, we are stuck again,” said Donovan while urging La Copa team to have a public meeting with proper notice, involving the local development corporation, the church, and area block clubs. Donovan asked that the issue of La Copa’s variance request before the Board of Zoning Appeals be postponed until August 21st at 10:30 a.m. The board approved the motion for a postponement. The August 21st hearing will be held in Room 514 of Cleveland City Hall.

Communication Problem

For months, local residents, businesses and community organizations have complained of Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago’s lack of communication and mixed signals on the issue of La Copa.

At the first meeting on La Copa in July 2005, Santiago, then a candidate for Cleveland City Council, spoke out in favor of La Copa. In January 2006, Councilman Santiago wrote a letter of support for the transfer of a liquor license to La Copa.

At his “state of the ward” address in January 2006, Santiago did not answer the question about his letter of support of La Copa, instead saying the local development corporation, Clark Metro Development Corp., would hold a meeting on the subject of La Copa. However, according to several sources, at the same time Councilman Santiago was telling Clark Metro not to hold a meeting on the subject.

Santiago’s actions resulted in confusion as to what La Copa’s real plans were and left the development corporation’s hands tied as to its ability to respond to a major issue of concern in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, a wide variety of ideas were circulating as to the proposed plans for the bar – a sports bar, a nightclub, a combination restaurant and Latin-themed entertainment-complex,  a youth center, a banquet hall or some combination  of all of these.

Questionable financing

At the first meeting on La Copa in July of 2005, Raed Sadik, a convicted felon, whose record includes an arrest for drug sales, was introduced as the co-owner of the nightclub. When residents learned after the meeting of Sadik’s record, it raised concern for residents already concerned about the potential impact of a nightclub on their neighborhood.

Councilman Santiago insists that Gennie Rodriguez is the owner of La Copa, not Raed Sadik. As for the possible involvement of Sadik in the club, Councilman Santiago said, “Anyone with a felony cannot work in a business that sells liquor. I can’t imagine that any smart business owner would jeopardize their business that way.” Rodriguez’s consultant, Petty J. Reed, said Sadik, as Rodriguez’s boyfriend,  wanted to support what she wanted to do. Reed says he advised Sadik it was best that he remove himself from the situation.

In light of the experience of neighborhood residents living a nightmarish existence in the neighborhood around another nightclub, Moda, located in the Ohio City portion of Ward 14, Santiago was asked if he knew where the money was coming from to fund La Copa. (Moda closed after a long investigation by federal agents resulted in a drug bust and charges that one of the principal investors used $1.1 million in drug money to help finance the club.) Santiago dismissed the idea of investigating the source of financing for La Copa. “Do you think I should ask every business that comes into the neighborhood where their money comes from? Should I ask Shop and Save where their money comes from? I’m not concerned where their money comes from.”

La Copa’s consultant, Petty J. Reed Jr. said La Copa’s funding came from family, friends, investors and savings. Asked to name those who invested and the amounts they invested, Reed said, “I don’t get into financial support.” Rodriguez refused to comment on the source of funds for La Copa.

Sports bar or nightclub?

Santiago and his Executive Assistant Sr. Alicia Alvarado now insist that La Copa’s business plan has changed and it now plans to be a sports bar, not a nightclub.

However,  La Copa’s request for a variance, presented to the board of zoning appeals at June 26th and July 24th meetings, was to change the status of building from a bar/tavern to a nightclub.  The City of Cleveland staff present at the BOZA hearing explained that the difference between a tavern and a nightclub was that a nightclub “offered live entertainment or offered use of a dance floor.”

The city staff made it clear that La Copa could operate as a sports bar and no variance would be needed. They also stated that once the status of a nightclub was granted, it would stay with the structure. Thus, if the business was sold, new owners could operate a nightclub at the location.  Under the law, a nightclub’s entire facility, including the parking lot, is required to be at least 500 feet from residences. To obtain a variance from this requirement city officials cited the law stating that the business must prove that the operation “will not adversely affect nearby residents.”

Board of Zoning Appeals member Tim Donovan questioned La Copa’s effort to now present the facility as a sports bar. “How many different things can you be?” he said. Donovan cited the part of the business plan for La Copa that called for “high energy Latin entertainment and dancing and high power lights.” The business plan says that type of venue resulted in the “highest cash-flow” with the average patron staying 3-4 hours and spending $25.00. “That is a nightclub. That is why we have the term nightclub in the code,” said Donovan.

City of Cleveland staff expressed concern that the parking lot of the facility was too close to residents’ homes on W. 30th and Walton and that the activity from the club would spill over into neighborhood streets after the club closed. City staff expressed concern that 175 people empting out into the parking lot at 2:30 a.m. would mean surrounding residents would be exposed to noise,  traffic, fighting,  and broken bottles.

Rodriguez , her lawyer, plus her consultants  Petty J. Reed Jr. and Josh Kabat,  insist the club will only use the dance floor for weddings, banquets,  special occasions and private parties. Rodriquez offered to close the Walton exit of the parking lot when using the facility for entertainment, so that all vehicles would have to exit on Clark Avenue. Rodriguez mentioned that they would have security and cameras in the parking lot.

City officials and BOZA members called upon La Copa to produce contracts and agreements to provide security and to come up with an understandable and believable schedule of days and hours of operation.  Donovan found it hard to believe, for example, a sports bar would be closed on Sundays, as stated in the plan, when Sundays are a major day for Cleveland Browns football.  

The City Planning staff member questioned the continued existence of a DJ stand in the plans and the lack of stations for televisions for the proposed sports bar.  

A staff member of Redeemer Crisis Center, which hosted the July 2005 meeting on La Copa attended by over eighty people, raised concerns about the impact of a nightclub on the neighborhood. Redeemer Crisis Center staff member Diane Zelmer said an informal survey of Center visitors showed 37 against, and 8 for, the prospect of a nightclub. Zelmer expressed fears that the club will exasperate existing neighborhood problems such as prostitution and is located too close to housing of families with children.

Asked about the concerns raised by Redeemer, Councilman Santiago said, “I believe Redeemer is not looking at this objectively.”

Editor’s note: As the Plain Press prepares to go to press on July 26th, rumors are already circulating that the La Copa meeting date has been changed. The Plain Press has not been officially notified as to a change in date. Please call Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago’s office at 664-3706 to confirm the date, time and place of the meeting printed above.


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