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State Shuts Down The Mansion Nightclub

JEFFREY B. COHEN

June 13, 2009

The state temporarily shuttered the downtown Hartford nightclub The Mansion on Friday, capping a violent week in which one patron was shot and four others were stabbed just after they left the club.

But for some, the action wasn't enough.

"This is not a cause for celebration," said Lawrence R. Gottesdiener, downtown's biggest landowner and the developer of Hartford 21. "This is a first step. The next step needs to be the permanent closure of this facility."

"Once again, Hartford was read about in every news outlet in the country for all the wrong reasons," Gottesdiener said. "A very small group of irresponsible business owners and their patrons are putting at risk the billions of dollars of time and investment in revitalizing the capital city."

The state's Department of Consumer Protection ordered The Mansion club, at 191 Ann Uccello St. once home to the Russian Lady to close until it can come up with a plan to ensure the safety of its patrons.

The move followed a week in which one person was shot in the stomach inside the club on the same night that five people were shot at nearby Papa's Pizza. One of the pizzeria shooting victims later died. Then, early Friday, four people were stabbed in a parking lot after they left The Mansion, police said.

Jerry Farrell Jr., the state's commissioner of consumer protection, said in a press release that he was "concerned with the unusually high number of incidents involving physical confrontations in and around this particular establishment."

City police records show that police have responded to 269 calls at The Mansion in the past year, Farrell said. He issued a "summary suspension" of the club's liquor permit and said that the club would remain closed indefinitely.

"I think we've certainly gotten their attention," Farrell said in an interview. "We don't seek to put people out of business. ... We're looking for compliance with the law."

The state said that one of the club's owners is Steven Becker. Becker declined to comment.

But the building's owner, John Rimscha, said that he and his tenants are as frustrated as everyone else.

"I don't like what's going on," Rimscha said Friday. "But I just don't know what to do. Give me a suggestion as to what to do, and I certainly would follow through."

"They're very upset about the situation and they tell me they're thinking of closing down," Rimscha said of the club's owners. One thought is to remodel the building and cater "to a completely different clientele."

"They're sick of it themselves," he said.

After Farrell's decision was announced Friday, Mayor Eddie A. Perez issued a statement praising it.

"We as a city will not tolerate violence and we cannot let 'one bad apple' tarnish the momentum and growth that our businesses can provide our residents and visitors in making Hartford a choice destination," Perez said.

Assistant Chief of Police Neil Dryfe said that the police department had been working with Farrell's office.

"The assistance from the Department of Consumer Protection is absolutely invaluable and it will give us some breathing room now," Dryfe said. "They have to have a viable safety plan before they will be allowed to reopen."

Still, Gottesdiener was clearly frustrated.

"It's been a very tough week, and it's really disappointing, because so many little good things are actually going well in Hartford," he said.

Michael Zaleski, head of the city's downtown Business Improvement District, concurred.

"This is a short-term, temporary closing," Zaleski said. "We need to work hard to make sure that nightclubs run like The Mansion are not allowed to operate in downtown Hartford."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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