Clubbed to Death
The problem is big, and its name is Stuart Konecky. Bayview residents see him as six feet, four inches of mercenary disregard for the peace and quiet of their comfortable, mostly white neighborhood lying only yards east of his nightclub, the Roxy.
Bayview residents who reside east of Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale complain that Konecky plays the music that brings the kids who drive the cars that shatter the night with the sounds of rap and hip-hop. They're mostly black kids 18 years old and up, who have no respect for people who sleep at night.
Those young people come to party, and Konecky comes to make money, charging them $5, $10, and $20 covers to get in, and enforcing a two-drink minimum. Club patrons arrive by the hundreds on special nights, filling the 30-space parking lot, then depositing their vehicles on strips of grass that front the houses and small apartment complexes in Bayview.
They make a lot of noise after the club closes at 2 a.m., car stereos thumping like artillery. They litter. They might be gang members, they might be druggies, they probably fornicate, residents say. Somebody could get hurt. Residents blame Stuart Konecky for all of that. So do some city commissioners, led by Gloria Katz, who lives in Bayview and represents the district.
The collective reaction of private citizens and politicians, an unusual alliance to solve a mere noise problem, could have a powerful effect on the hours that all bars in Fort Lauderdale do business, and many bar owners are worried. They too have joined the chorus calling for Konecky either to quit the business or to find a new venue.
"Let's let the police go through it like they should and make it rough on [Konecky] so he wants to get out of town," proposes Don Meyer, a club promoter sympathetic to the Bayview residents. "There's a lot of gang people on the weekends. It's a very affluent neighborhood. You're sitting in an [expensive] home with kids, and all of a sudden a car with tinted windows and booming music comes by -- I wouldn't like it either. The club is not concerned about city laws, they're getting a $20 cover. This hurts the rest of the clubs."
Konecky says he's endured patently unfair business and political pressures, especially considering he appears to play by the rules. Konecky doesn't sell alcohol to underage drinkers, he encourages a police presence by hiring off-duty officers to work details at his club, and he's recently brought down the sound levels.
Konecky figures if they can force him out, other bar owners believe they won't face the threat of reduced drinking hours citywide or risk other city government action. Feeling that he has become a scapegoat, Konecky now reacts sharply. If club owners want him out, "let all the people who hold liquor licenses send me $10 a week for ten years," Konecky says. "I'll close the club." In lieu of that, he announces, "If these people don't like the black kids, I'll turn this into a motorcycle club, see how they like a couple of hundred Harleys leaving here on a Saturday night at 2 a.m."
The threat emerges from a small mouth -- the only small thing about Konecky. He packs about 350 pounds onto his frame, which he customarily dresses in a black Tshirt, black trousers, and black shoes, a uniform Konecky says he has worn through 25 years in the club business. Neighbors who don't like his club are now criticizing his appearance -- one lady told a police detail that Konecky looks like "Mafia."
"How could I be Mafia?" he asks rhetorically. He pulls a gold neck chain from his Tshirt, and on the end of it hangs a Jewish Star of David. "I'm not Mafia," he announces, exhibiting the emblem of his religion.
It's early, only 10 p.m., and the doors are opening on another night in Konecky's four-year run as Roxy owner. A visit to the Roxy midweek, when Konecky advertises hip-hop and rap, reveals a well-behaved crowd blanketed in noise -- inside the club. Three bars do brisk business beneath etched glass mirrors, neon, and a 30-screen video system. The staff carefully checks IDs when patrons order drinks. Young black and Hispanic males working as security move in and out of the crowd, encountering little trouble. No car can be found parked illegally on the street behind the club at midnight.
Inside, Konecky says reduced decibels are the new Roxy style, the kinder, gentler Roxy, and it's costing him money -- he's toned down the music and lost business. "I've tried to appease the commissioners, the neighbors, the other club owners, and I should get a thank-you from somebody, at least," he says.
The thank-you won't be coming from neighbors just yet.
Some residents appear to be moving out. "For Rent" signs line NE 21st Avenue behind the club, where small apartment complexes face large, single-family homes across the street. A few yards to the east of the cozy neighborhood lie the American Golfers Club and the Coral Ridge Country Club.
"You see those rental signs all the way down the block?" asks Roscoe, a 44-year-old white resident of the Trident, a complex across the alley from the Roxy that includes five units and a small pool. "That's just since January because of the Roxy."
Roscoe is unwilling to give his last name but is eager to speak to a reporter. Like others in the neighborhood, Roscoe says the problem is noise and nuisance, not race. Born and raised in the Bahamas, he decides to speak candidly.
"It's not about black and white, it's about class," Roscoe announces. "Let me put it this way. In the islands, black Jamaicans and black Haitians don't have nothing to do with these kind of American blacks -- they have no class. [The blacks] used to be moving east toward the beach in Lauderdale. Now they're moving north toward us."
Roscoe claims to find empty drug bags the morning after a big night at the Roxy and complains that couples have sex behind his building.
Fort Lauderdale police say they patrol the area heavily and have now closed the alley behind the Roxy at night to prevent parking there. Police strongly reject the notion -- put forward by some Bayview residents and club promoter Meyer -- that they aren't doing their job by making arrests. Last year police made 47 arrests at the Roxy, and so far this year they have made 19 -- about the same number for the same period. Although that's more arrests than police make at some busy nightclubs, the figure still isn't excessive.
But the problem may in part be complainers who refuse to sign their complaints. "You need victims who complain. It's difficult to cite somebody if no civilian formally complains," says Det. Mike Reed, the Fort Lauderdale Police spokesman. "The main complaints are about noise, nuisances -- we don't have shootings or knifings. There's frustration for the residents, but we have to work within the laws. We can't jeopardize the civil liberties of the club patrons, either."
City commissioners aren't going to jeopardize anyone's civil liberties, but they will consider restricting the liberties of bar and club owners if they have to. After pressuring Konecky to change his ways and winning his agreement to do so in a public meeting a month ago, commissioners and club owners were optimistic. They had glowing things to say about Konecky that were dutifully reported by local daily newspapers.
That's changed. Responding to neighborhood complaints, commissioners say Konecky's club and another one like it, the Emerald City on Commercial Boulevard, continue to be individual problems that may require citywide solutions.
"We thought we had made some progress after [Konecky] promised to change things last month, but nothing has happened there since then," Katz says. "So we're going to have to take action." Katz wants city commissioners to act sooner rather than later on the recommendations of a small commission of private citizens and bar owners appointed to study the bar problem.
Among the official options: Commissioners could limit the hours of alcohol sales in the city to midnight, then require businesses to obtain special permits to stretch that to 2 or 3 a.m., as current city laws now allow. The politicians could also create a three-complaints-and-you're-out rule. If authorities receive three complaints about any establishment that serves alcohol, they could temporarily suspend its right to do business. If they pick up a fourth complaint, they could close the business for a year.
Former Roxy owner Michael Gagliardi, who still owns the building and holds Stuart Konecky's lease, says that solution horrifies bar and club owners. Gagliardi now owns the upscale club Christopher's, the subject of occasional complaints, but he recalls complaints he received about the Roxy years ago. "My club was upscale, all white, but people used to complain about that a lot more," he recalls. "The difference is, the city didn't want to close us down then."
If officials adopt the proposed complaint policy, Gagliardi says, echoing the opinions of others, owners will try to put each other out of business by registering complaints against their competitors.
Gagliardi has joined BAR-PAC -- an organization of bar and club owners who hope to protect themselves from overregulation, in part by policing their own problems. And some BAR-PAC members want him to take away Konecky's lease and find another tenant. "I won't," he says. "In the first place, I can't -- Konecky has 13 years left on his lease. And he's been a perfect tenant."
Gagliardi suggests a solution that requires neither political intervention or the scapegoating of Konecky. And it appears to place some faith in the young black patrons of the Roxy. "He shouldn't back off, if I was Stu, I wouldn't back off, I'd keep playing that music," because it makes money, it has a market, Gagliardi says, and that's what business is about.
Since business is also about being a good neighbor, according to Gagliardi, his tenant should hire at least 30 security personnel a night, when the club is hopping.
Sitting in his club before the weekday evening winds down with only 100 or so patrons, Konecky considers the idea. "Hey, I'm an honest businessman," he says. "I try. But what happens out there -- that's not my problem."
Contact Roger Williams at his e-mail address:
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