BPD brass, managers of the Wang Theater, the Charles Playhouse and the W Hotel and elderly residents of a Tremont Street building turned out en masse at a licensing hearing this morning to oppose Royale's request to increase its capacity from 770 to 1220, saying the area has enough trouble already with the club goers it has now.
Royale argues the increase would actually make the neighborhood safer because the concerts the new capacity would allow would get out an hour earlier than the current 2 a.m. closing time.
But police Superintentendent William Evans and District A-1 Capt. Thomas Lee said the Theater District is already at its bursting point when it comes to trouble. Lee said the district, which can have up to 7,000 club goers on a busy night, has had three murders this year and other outbursts of violence. When fights break out, they said, police commanders sometimes have to call in officers from other parts of the city to help quell the trouble.
Police devote "significant resources down there, at significant cost," Evans told city Licensing Chairwoman Patricia Malone.
More specifically, Lee said, Royale has had 17 violations this year, from assault and battery to a doorman soliciting oral sex. It's also $17,341 behind in its overtime payments for detail officers, he said.
Residents of an elderly-housing complex next door to the club complained they lose sleep from loud patrons at all hours of the night, have to breathe in their cigarette smoke and just generally live in fear of the drunken people who spill out of the club at 2 a.m.
Josiah Spaulding, chairman of the Citi Center Performing Arts Center, said he is tired of public-safety problems in the Theater District related to the clubs and said Royale has boasted in industry publications of concerts having well over 1,000 attendees - way more than allowed under its current license.
Royale General Manager Brig Dauber and his lawyer, Edward Larson, said the increase in capacity would actually make the Theater District safer, because it would let them shift away from troublesome dance nights on Fridays to concerts that would get out at 1 a.m. instead of 2. They added they would put on extra security and are workng with the BRA on a long-range plan to beautify Tremont Street, possibly by planting trees.
But when Larson attempted to also argue the net effect of the increase would be further muted by what he said was the impending shutdown of the Encore and Caprice lounges, in the same building, licensing Chairwoman Patricia Malone said not so fast there, because the lounges have different owners and there's no guarantee their landlord won't just find new lounges to replace them with.
Malone questioned whether Royale patrons would simply disperse at 1 a.m. and said they might just hang out in the area, adding to the general 2 a.m. crush. Dauber said his experience is that concert goers come in just for the concert and leave immediately after.
Royale agreed to formally ask Malone to defer any action on its request until at least after Dauber meets with the Midtown Park Plaza Neighborhood Association on Sept. 12. Turns out Royale didn't let the association know about its request - and today's hearing - until Aug. 26, and never notified neighborhood groups in Chinatown and Bay Village, which Malone found troubling. Although not a legal requirement, city officials generally want people seeking license changes to meet with neighborhood groups first.
Mayor Menino and City Councilor Bill Linehan sent representatives to today's hearing to say they are opposed to increasing the club's allowable capacity.
Dauber said Royale "absolutely, absolutely" did a good job turning Royale around since 2007, when it was known as the Roxy and Malone cuts its capacity from 1300 to 775 due to ongoing problems. He said it's unfair to blame Royale for issues caused by six or seven other venues in the area - and said the two main parking garages in the area need to step it up when it comes to security.
Lawson disputed Spaulding's claims, saying that while promoters might have advertised events having more than 1,000 patrons, Royale itself never did. Malone said that on repeated inspections, police have never found the club over capacity.
Dauber said that if the club is delinquent in its overtime payments to police, it's because it's part of a consortium of Theater District clubs that share some detail costs and that the consortium might be behind in its payments and the amount cited by Lee was Royale's share. Royale, he said, is not shirking its payments.
But Lee, noting the 16 violations issues to the club this year, disagreed. "I dispute that the club has been troublefree."