For months, one of the area's most dynamic streets -- the pedestrian mall that West Palm Beach's Clematis Street becomes on weekend nights -- has been under siege from the city.
Mayor Joel Daves, who lives less than a mile from the busy 500 block of Clematis, has been the primary source of the complaints, charges Greg Hilliker, the owner of Spanky's at 500 Clematis St.
"He's the only one who has ever called and complained since I've owned the place," says Hilliker. "Of course, since the police department works for him, they're going to come out."
Daves didn't return phone calls from Bandwidth asking for comment.
The 500 block of Clematis -- home to Spanky's, O'Shea's, Respectable Street, Ray's Downtown Blues, the Lounge, and the West Village Tavern -- has been a source of late-night complaints regarding noise. That's why patrons have noticed outdoor events coming under police scrutiny, particular the "Sonic Saturdays" dance night at Respectable's, which was moved indoors at the West Village Tavern after cops -- decibel meters in hand -- visited one too many times.
Hilliker said the decibel factor is unfair to his business. The ordinance -- limiting noise to a mere 60 decibels -- was written in 1965, before Clematis Street became an entertainment destination. (By comparison, a vacuum cleaner will usually rack up about 70 decibels.) In fact he charges that the mayor may be employing some selective hearing when he decides to phone in a complaint.
"Trains go by here all night, and of course the mayor must hear those trains," posits Hilliker. "We put a decibel meter on 'em, and they're 178 decibels. But those don't seem to bother him. We put the meter on the water fountain downtown, and it exceeded the noise limit."
Hilliker also complains that the ordinance isn't being enforced fairly. "If they're going to measure whether there's too much noise," he says, "they should measure it from where the complaint is coming from. Instead they're standing in front of our doorway."
The city is in the process of rewriting the antiquated noise ordinance.
Additional friction between the city and Clematis nightclubs has arisen thanks to the special events permit the venues must buy from the city to hold live music shows outdoors. Each one costs $150 -- not a big financial blow, but as Hilliker explains, it's the principle and the way it's selectively enforced.
The big-money, socialite-funded Kravis Center, about a mile southwest of Clematis Street, has apparently been exempt from both the special license fee and the noise ordinance. "I think it's a prejudicial thing," Hilliker postulates. "What's the difference between my amphitheater and theirs?"
Alison Malcolm, director of public relations for the Kravis Center declares that the venue requires no special-events permit because their outdoor venue, the Gosman Amphitheater, is on private property owned by the Kravis Center. "We don't have to pull any permits," she explains. "I think Clematis is different because they're on the street and that's city property."
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"This is my own private property!" counters Hilliker. "Just goes to show you. This is private property, plus it's walled on all sides. It could be because we let young bands have the opportunity to play on a big stage."
And it's unlikely that a phalanx of ATF officers would converge on the Kravis Center to look for underage drinkers -- as they recently did at Spanky's on July 13 for a punk show featuring Strung Out. If this crackdown continues, Hilliker fears one possible outcome is that live music acts in Palm Beach County will find Delray Beach or Lake Worth more hospitable. It's not a good situation, because Clematis on a weekend night has a real sense of togetherness that's lacking in the fractured, fragmented South Florida musical landscape. At least Clematis seems like a real scene. Count on Bandwidth to continue to explore the inequity of this situation in the weeks to come.
When one door closes, another one opens. Or something like that. Following the closure of FU*BAR, which is creating a big roadblock to bringing alternative live music to Fort Lauderdale, another club opened last Wednesday, though it's unlikely to fill a niche that's not already overflowing in these parts. The Metal Factory, 2674 E. Oakland Park Blvd., had been home to a struggling strip club for the last few years and before that a hair-band, cover-band bar called Rosebud's. Judging by the over-the-top, '80s-themed commercials Zeta (WZTA-FM 94.9) has been rotating lately, the Metal Factory is planning to shoot for the occasional over-the-hill wig farmers like Quiet Riot and Skid Row, metal tribute acts, and local hard rock acts. Grant Hall, who booked shows at FU*BAR, is having to move most of his shows, including a recent appearance by the Teen Idols, to a miniature space in Little Haiti called Birdman's Warehouse. He'd like to bring the neocountry outfit BR-549 to town but is having a hard time locating a venue to hold the show. That's definitely our loss.