Culture nightclub in Norfolk will surrender conditional use permit, only operate as a restaurant moving forward

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Culture Lounge and Nightclub in Norfolk will surrender its conditional use permit (CUP) in seven days and only operate as a restaurant after that in a compromise reached with City Council.

In exchange, Norfolk City Council Tuesday night voted unanimously to again delay a vote on revoking the business’s CUP themselves as they threatened to do. If City Council acted, culture wouldn’t be allowed to operate in any capacity for six months.

The compromise means Culture will only be able to operate as a nightclub until early next week.

Neither the club owner, some council members nor neighbors who complained about Culture seemed thrilled with the vote.

For months those living near the club have complained about the violence, which include shootings, outside the club. The city attorney’s office presented evidence they said proves “that one or more of the conditions made part of the conditional use permit granted” have been violated.

The attorney for the club owner said his clients are being victimized for violence plaguing the community and that there was “no evidence” of what owners did wrong.

The compromise Tuesday night only came after open negations between Mayor Kenny Alexander and club owners during the revocation hearing at city hall.

Alexander told Michael Copeland, one of Culture’s four owners, that if the business voluntarily gave up its CUP, it could apply to keep the business open as just a restaurant if they chose. That means they could still serve alcohol, but could have not dance floor or live entertainment and must close nightly at midnight.

If the council voted to revoke the CUP, the property couldn’t be used for anything for six months, according to City Attorney Bernard Pishko.

Copeland and his co-owners agreed to surrender the CUP on Dec. 21 but still felt he accepted something they “didn’t deserve.”

“It’s a little ridiculous to be quite honest when we haven’t violated anything,” Copeland said to City Council, explaining that he wanted to make sure his employees can still make some money ahead of Christmas.

Culture opened in 2018 in the heart of the city’s Neon district.

Described as an “Artsy & Eclectic Lounge / Bar /Restaurant/ Nightclub with contemporary and chic décor and intricate Wall Murals,” it’s one of three businesses on Granby street owned by Copeland. He also is involved with Cork & Company and Canvas Social Cuisine.

However in her presentation Tuesday night, Assistant City Attorney Katherine Taylor painted a picture of a club that couldn’t handle what it committed to.

From September 2020 to Sept. 22, 2021, Taylor said the Norfolk Police Department had been called to Culture 154 times, with 124 of the calls coming from the business’s own security team requesting assistance. She detailed incident reports that ranged from shots fired to assaults.

In the revocation hearing against Culture, Taylor the CUP states that “during all hours of operation the operator is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk and parking lot adjacent to the premises.”

“If even the best management in the world would not be able to stop what goes on outside, people engaging in shoot-outs outside with Culture’s security team, then the city must not allow it to operate,” Taylor said. “This activity does not happen outside every establishment.”

Culture’s attorney Kevin Martingayle had asserted his clients were scapegoats for the city’s inability to get control of what’s going on in the streets.

“It’s tough when you have never had an ABC violation, no court violations, never been sued,” Martingayle said following the vote.

He also criticized the process, saying not one City Council member ever reached out to Culture owners.

“Norfolk’s a tough place to try and have any type of nightclub at all. Because they don’t go to court, they bring you to council,” Martingayle said.

Last week, Norfolk City Council voted to shut down Origami Asian Bistro, a nightclub near Military Circle, after several years of complaints from neighbors and hundreds of visits from police to the surrounding property.

The mayor warns it should all serve as a warning to all businesses that the city can not go at the fight against violence alone.

“We want to continue to have that reputation as a city that’s open for business. However we want businesses to adhere to enforcement,” Alexander said.

However, Alexander acknowledged more consistency in enforcement was key.

“We want to be consistent and we are not picking and choosing what businesses and what applicant gets to stay open until 2 a.m.,” Alexander said. “But let’s just be fair across the board.”

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