Local News

Depot Derailed as Nightclubs Close

Posted November 13, 2007

— Three nightclubs in the recently restored warehouse district west of downtown Raleigh closed without warning last weekend, leaving dozens unemployed and the area's future in the air.

Trucks packed up equipment from The Hurricane, Blazin' Saddles, and Soho East over the weekend. Half-empty beer bottles still sat on bars inside the clubs on Tuesday, and unhooked cables hung from the walls where plasma televisions were once located.

"Our schedules were posted. Literally, it's like they just snuck out in the middle of the night and just left," former employee Lelia West said

"It's just like we worked on a project together, and it's like it went away. We never did anything," former employee Carey Kidd said.

The three West Davie Street clubs were part of The Raleigh Depot, owned by Rochester, N.Y., businessman Ronnie Davis. The project was part of an effort to revitalize the warehouse district near the Amtrak rail station west of downtown.

Six years ago, the North Carolina Railroad Co. spent more than $2 million to restore the 1912 Southern Railway freight depot. The building sat empty for several years before Davis leased the property last year and began outfitting it for the three clubs.

The Depot opened to great fanfare in August, with a block party to attract people downtown. But an incident involving country-rock singer Uncle Kracker drew even more attention to the area.

The singer, whose real name is Matthew Shafer, was arrested at a Cary hotel after a woman accused him of groping her in a downtown Raleigh bar after he performed at The Depot block party.

Shafer pleaded guilty in September to a misdemeanor assault charge and was sentenced to a year on probation.

Unemployed workers said Tuesday the incident had very little to do with closures.

As he walked though the abandoned clubs Tuesday, plumbing contractor Don Luther said a financial dispute between Davis, the NCRR and the project's general contractor led to the sudden closures.

"We were supposed to be paid five days after the job was completed. That was our guarantee by the railroad," Luther said, noting he is still owed $49,000 for plumbing work he did in the clubs.

"Everybody backed out of it," he said. "We've got a lien going right now on this building and the owners."

NCRR officials issued a statement that said Davis "apparently has abandoned the business in Raleigh" but hasn't provided any notice of termination of the lease.

"Contractors did work at the direction of (Davis') company. NCRR does not have a contract with general contractor or subcontractors," NCRR spokeswoman Kat Christian said. "We're concerned they are not going to get paid and hope it will be resolved fairly quickly."

Ben Kuhn, an attorney for Davis, declined to comment on any financial dispute. He said Davis was sorry for leaving about 40 full- and part-time workers without jobs and leaving subcontractors with unpaid bills.

"It has been our intention to add to and continue Raleigh's development. We regret any hardship or impact immediate closure had on North Carolina Railroad Co., subcontractors, employees, residents and patrons," Kuhn said.

David Diaz, president and chief executive of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, said he doesn't think The Depot's closing will adversely affect efforts to bring more business to the warehouse district.

"It appears to be an isolated incident," Diaz said.

The NCRR hopes to find new tenants for the spaces formerly occupied by the clubs once the lease will Davis is resolved, Christian said.

But new tenants won't open in time to help Mary Shelton, who recently booked an event at The Depot for December.

"I was coming by to secure it, and there's nobody here," Shelton said. "(I was) shocked. The doors were locked, (and) the contractors let us in. They said, 'There's nothing here. There's nobody here. They've all packed up and gone.'"

With the new downtown convention center and hotel scheduled to open in less than a year, leaders had high hopes on this area becoming a well-established nightlife destination.

"Certainly a setback for the warehouse district and a little bit for downtown Raleigh,” said Dennis Edwards, president and chief executive of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Losing these three businesses is a loss, but hopefully we've got time to replace them.”

“We have about 160 restaurants and clubs. So having two or three of them close down isn't that big of a deal overall,” Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said.

Although employees weren't given any notice about the closures, Dave Jackson, a bar manager at The Hurricane, said the moves didn't surprise him.

"I think it was just a little too big for Raleigh at this point in time," Jackson said. "Probably two years from now, it would have been a better idea."


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  • raleighborngirl Nov 15, 2007

    The downtown district need not worry. White Collar Crime has been there for over 3 years and still packing people in! It just shows that local owners are the way to go in Raleigh. I beleive ESS and Mosquito are locally owned and doing well. This guy just didn't know his market.

  • dougdeep Nov 14, 2007

    Did they always charge covers over there at these bars? Raleigh has a very low carrying capacity for bars that charge covers. They don't offer anything above and beyond the bar next door, without a cover. I especially don't understand why so many new locations are trying export 'Big City' atmosphere (which funny enough, they always assume to be SoHo sophisticate). Take a trip to Chicago and you'll find that their most popular bars are hole in the wall dives with hilarious music selections.

    Open a bar with some decent booze specials and you'll do fine. Around the Corner is doing pretty well with the same CD playing every night, canned atmosphere, $14 buckets of beer, and no cover charge.

  • BigUNCFan Nov 14, 2007

    Seems shady when businesses pack up in the middle of the night without warning and leave employees without notice. I think there should be some week or 2 week notice or pay the emps for that time. I can't put my finger on it but it just seems wrong for a place to be closed when a person shows up to work a shift and sees the place has been gutted.

    As for bars, I have to think with rent, insurance, high turnover, regulations, having to sell a bunch of food due to state laws, etc. that even if the bar is packed, you can get hit with underage drinking violations, etc. etc. etc.

    I imagine it is a tough business to survive all of that plus the changing tastes of a very young fickle customer base

  • yukonjohn3 Nov 14, 2007

    Tough to sell enough booze to stay in business with the current DWI/DUI enforcment in place. Most people that would use these bars , live outside town. They must drive home. Public trans no help for outside city residents.

    pdl, you hit the nail on the head!! Up here, we are a drinking society, and our bars have suffered due to the liability of having someone leave your establishment and have a wreck and kill someone. Even just having the cops sit ready to pounce on patrons as they leave the bar. At least here, almost ALL duis occur AFTER midnight. You can pretty much drink unimpeeded until then, but afterwards...LOOK OUT!! Out in the bush where I work, there is only one bar left on the Yukon River in Alaska, almost 2000 miles and it rocks all the time. 8 in the morning till 5 the next morning. If one can just handle drunks puking and taking a leak anywhere, it rocks!! Most places down in NC these days are MUCH too uptown for that anymore.

  • Space Mountain Nov 14, 2007

    There are plenty of bars downtown. What they need is a really good dance club. Jillian's is gone. The Wharehouse closed. I guess there is City Limits Saloon, but that isn't really downtown. Anyone remember the old Marz and then called the Club Zone? That wasn't downtown, but it was the best club. They need something big like that.

  • talkabout Nov 14, 2007

    SO, another BAR closes?? SO what! There are 50 other bars in a 5 mile radius. It sucks for the employees as they were betrayed by their employeer.

  • der_Marv_meister Nov 14, 2007

    Does anyone (other than the out-of-work employees) really care that downtown has lost three bars out of nearly 100? I am betting not as when one closes, there are ten more to go to within a block or two.
    Why doesn't downtown try and attract more than the beer guzzlers and wine sippers? Open up some varied businesses instead of 100 businesses of the same type.

  • likemenow Nov 14, 2007

    Anyone can make a small fortune in the nightclub business....as long as you start with a large fortune.

  • i walk alone Nov 13, 2007

    aint it ashame the meegar mayor meeker puts raleighs future in the hands of a bunch o drunks and bars ..go figure

  • Pineview Style Nov 13, 2007

    "Go Downtown on a Friday or Saturday and you will see that every location is packed."

    True, although Jillian's was always packed when I went there so I was suprised to see them close. Maybe cause clubbin' is getting too expensive....