El Tropical problems receive scrutiny from many quarters
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, August 2007) The bar owner, residents, police, community relations officials, building inspectors and Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago have all weighed in recently to tackle concerns about problems stemming from El Tropical Lounge at W. 44th and Storer Avenue.
Responding to the July Plain Press article “Problems continue at El Tropical”, Carmelo Colon Jr., El Tropical owner and manager said ‘I’m ready to work with the community. I’m willing to work with them.”
Colon says he has hired a Cleveland Police officer to help “control the parking lot” on Friday and Saturday nights.
A fight on June 9th that started in the El Tropical parking lot and ended with gunshots fired on the lawn of neighbors across Storer Avenue was one issue brought up at a June 19th neighborhood meeting.
Colon says he believes the fight resulted from a three-year-old dispute between relatives. He said because people cannot smoke inside his bar they were standing out in the parking lot smoking. People involved in the dispute driving down the street spotted the other party in the El Tropical parking lot and the fight started.
Concerning the gun, Colon says, a lot of people have guns. “You can’t search people outside and you can’t search their cars,” said Colon. Speaking of the perpetrator with the gun, Colon said, “Maybe he went to his car and got a gun.”
Colon says the shooting did not take place on his property. Colon says the security guard told the fighters to take their fight out into the street. “After people go into the street, that is the police’s job,” says Colon.
As for charges that beer bottles bought at his establishment were being thrown out of car windows late at night in the neighborhood, Colon says people can buy beer at a lot of places in the neighborhood. He urged neighbors to call him about problems in the neighborhood.
Residents fed up with El Tropical and other bars along Storer Avenue talked about shutting down the El Tropical at the June 19th meeting. Colon says he wishes he had been invited to the meeting to defend himself. He noted his bar was not the only bar in the neighborhood with problems. Colon says he plans to put a picnic table outside so people can sit and smoke, rather than standing around.
Colon said El Tropical “is my livelihood. I’ve worked for this for 17 years to take care of my family. I try to do the best I can. I try to get people to go home quietly. You can’t please everybody.”
Colon said the building where El Tropical is located has always had a bar. At one point it was a bowling alley and a bar. He said it was also a motorcycle bar called the Jail House at one time. Colon says the previous establishments, like his, had entertainment on the weekends.
At a July 10th Second District Police Community Relations Committee meeting, Rowena Ventura, a neighbor of El Tropical, said she has been trying to bring attention to problems at the bar since 1999. She said she felt the previous councilman and the current councilman had done nothing to address the problem. She said she believes problems are beginning to be addressed now because a Plain Dealer reporter was sitting on her porch across from El Tropical and witnessed the June 9th fight. She noted that since that incident the City of Cleveland Community Relations Department has sent staff people to help with organizing on the issue.
Second District Lt. Bolon said police officers have been working on her complaint prior to the incident. Bolon said “the owner of the bar expressed interest in working to resolve problems. We are going to work with him.”
Second District officers at the meeting reported that the Vice Sergeant had visited El Tropical. The bar, which has a DJ on Friday and Saturday nights, was cited for not having a dance hall permit. Vice reported problems in the parking lot and when people were leaving as the bar closed. Vice said they observed no underage drinking, no after hours consumption and that the bar tender refused to serve people he believed had too much to drink.
Vice reported three saturation enforcements of problems with bars in the Second District.
City of Cleveland Building and Housing records indicate that El Tropical was one of at least five establishments in Wards 13 and 14 cited with violations on June 8th for lack of compliance with building and housing ordinances. El Tropical was cited for not having the proper permits and certificates of occupancy required for nightclub use and live entertainment. Among other violations, El Tropical was also cited for not having the proper permits for enlargement of the parking lot. El Tropical has the right to appeal the violations before the Board of Zoning Appeals. Residents can testify at those hearings.
In addition to the Building and Housing Violations, Colon may face a challenge to the liquor license at El Tropical. At a July 11th City Council meeting, Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago filed an objection to the renewal of the liquor license of El Tropical. The license is up for renewal this October before the Ohio Board of Liquor Control. The objection of the City Council of Cleveland would be a factor considered in the renewal of the license. Residents can attend the hearings held in Columbus.
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