The after-hours nightclub Dream quickly turned into a nightmare for the Metro Nashville Police Department and the Department of Codes and Building Safety earlier this year.
The club, which was open only from 2 to 6 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, had more than 35 calls for police service and four shooting incidents in less than three months.
And while Metro Codes officials quickly moved to shut down Dream, the incident has revived a call for clarification about Metro’s rules for public after-hours clubs. Councilwoman Karen Bennett, the chair for the Public Safety Committee, called for a meeting on Monday, March 4, to discuss the laws.
“We’re just going to have [Metro Codes and MNPD] come and tell us what they learned from the Dream investigation,” Bennett said. “There were some comments made perhaps that they felt like the [after-hours clubs] legislation passed in [2007 and 2008] was not working. If it’s not working, then let’s sit down find out what we need to do and take care of it legally, so ... we can have it doing the job that it’s supposed to be doing for the residents of Nashville.”
Bill Herbert, Metro Codes’ zoning administrator, believes the law is clear: Any establishment open to the public as an after-hours club between 3 and 6 a.m. must apply for an after-hours permit. After that ordinance was passed in 2007, The City Paper reported that 11 of 12 after-hours clubs were cited for not having a safety plan or failing to meet other permit standards.
The Metro Council revisited the issue in 2009 and added that after-hours clubs are prohibited from having alcohol on the premises.
After the alcohol prohibition was put in place, none of the after-hours clubs applied to renew their permits. As of today, there are no after-hours clubs legally registered to serve the general public in Nashville — the last permit expired in 2009. (Businesses regulated by the Sexually Oriented Business Licensing Board operate under a different set of regulations.)
When police received several early morning calls to Dream, located behind adult entertainment store Hustler near downtown Nashville, they got in contact with Metro Codes. According to Herbert, a nearby business owner complained to his department about violence and other activity at Dream.
Police records show MNPD responded to at least one call for service there during every weekend from Dec. 1, 2012, to Feb. 10 of this year, including New Year’s Eve. All the calls originated between 3 and 6 a.m. MNPD spokeswoman Kris Mumford said there was an additional shooting, not reflected in the calls for service, that stemmed from the club.
At first, there was some confusion about whether the after-hours ordinance was enforceable, Herbert said. So he enlisted the Metro Law Department to determine whether any court proceedings had affected the status of the ordinance. Metro attorneys affirmed that the ordinance was legal.
So MNPD and Metro Codes investigated Dream by sending a confidential informant inside.
“We wanted to determine whether the club was open to general public or not,” Herbert said, noting that some late-night clubs with private membership are perfectly legal. “The [informant] was able to get into the club, and the evidence we got was so good that we decided … to take this one directly to court.”
Metro sued Dream early in February in Environmental Court, a division of Davidson County General Sessions court. But the owners of Dream voluntarily agreed to shut down the club, Herbert said.
Herbert maintains that the problem isn’t with the ordinance, but rather the owners of Dream applied for the wrong kind of permit.
“I don’t really see it being a problem with the ordinance, so much. They told us they were going to do one thing, they ended up doing another,” Herbert said. “So when we got that information, we were able to act quickly to get them straight to a lawsuit and get them closed down.”
Dream apparently isn’t the only club that has skirted the rules. Jazz & Jokes in downtown Nashville hosted an after-hours event in September, but they were busted by the Metro Beer Permit Board and had to pay a $250 fine.
That led Bennett to call for the meeting of the Public Safety Committee, which is composed of other council members.
“If there is need-be [for legislation], I’d be glad to sponsor it,” Bennett said. “If there’s a fix that needs to be made, then we need to address that and deal with it.”
The meeting is scheduled for March 4 at 6 p.m. in the council chambers of the Metro Courthouse.