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State Says Former Mansion Club May Reopen; City Says It Can't

By Jeffrey B. Cohen

September 21, 2009

The state says that the downtown club it ordered closed earlier this summer following a spate of violence may now reopen because a security plan is in place.

But city inspectors say the owners of the former Mansion club can't reopen until they address several code violations.

In a letter last week to Jerry Fornarelli, one of the club's owners, the city said that the "Mansion will not be permitted to reopen until all noncompliant issues identified" have been addressed to the city's satisfaction. The city said Monday that the code violations included inadequate emergency lighting, exit doors without working panic hardware, using extension cords as permanent wires, unpermitted electrical work and more.

In addition to the city's problems with the club, Lawrence Gottesdiener, downtown's largest property owner and owner of the nearby Hartford 21 apartment tower, is also trying to stop the opening.

"It is time for the political and business leaders to take a stand against irresponsible operators that threaten the quality of life and billions of dollars of public and private investment in the central business district," Gottesdiener said in a statement.

The state Department of Consumer Protection suspended the club's liquor permit earlier this year until the club could address safety concerns after a patron was shot in the club and four others were stabbed just after they left it.

The club's owners and the consumer protection department reached an agreement that lifted the suspension of the club's liquor permit last Thursday, effectively allowing it to reopen.

Elements of that agreement included heightened security, a name change and a revision in the club's style. The club at 191 Ann Uccello St. is now called Entourage, and will play Top 40 music, a change from the largely hip-hop music that it used to play.

Steve Becker, one of the club's owners, declined to comment Monday.

Gottesdiener said that he has gathered more than 100 signatures on a petition of people "adamantly opposed" to reopening the club. He said he also filed legal paperwork with state consumer protection officials last week to request a hearing. But the state agency said that there's no legal ground for the hearing that Gottesdiener wants.

In the paperwork filed with the state, Gottesdiener's attorney said that the venue's owners work with "blatant disregard" that "negatively affects the quality of life of all those who live, work, or own property within this area of Hartford and particularly for the tenants and visitors to Hartford 21."

Gottesdiener's attorney, Mark Shipman, said that the club's continued operation could affect property values and make it hard to rent apartment units.

Councilman Matt Ritter, who signed the petition of people "adamantly opposed" to the club's reopening, said he doesn't believe that the club's owners have done enough to communicate their plans with residents and property owners downtown.

"The repetition of problems at this property with these owners is crystal clear," Ritter said. "There's a lot of places around there that are open that have no problems."

Reprinted with permission of the CityLine blog of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the CityLine at http://blogs.courant.com/cityline/ and the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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