NORFOLK, Va. - Norfolk City Council decided the fate of a local nightclub on Tuesday.
The council unanimously voted to allow for Culture to continue operating - not as a nightclub, but as a restaurant, starting in seven days. As a result, it will remain as a nightclub for the next week.
This move comes as the city weighed a decision to shut it down following some complaints of violence surrounding the establishment.
Culture has one week left to stay open as a nightclub, but by next Tuesday, it’ll be known as a restaurant that’ll stop serving alcohol by midnight and there will be no live entertainment. Culture will have to apply for another conditional use permit to have entertainment in a restaurant.
Its four owners are not entirely happy with the outcome; however, they say this option was better than being shut down.
Feeling the cards stacked against them, they passed up a council vote to possibly revoke their license. Instead, Culture decided to give up their conditional use permit in a week and run the club as a restaurant.
Culture’s lawyer, Kevin Martingayle, called it a compromise.
“My clients decided to cut their losses and hold onto their ability to operate as a restaurant,” Martingayle said.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Assistant City Attorney Kat Taylor argued to revoke the club’s permit, citing surveillance video as the final straw for neighboring businesses.
Some neighboring businesses and residents say Culture, located on Granby Street in the city's NEON District, has attracted violence since it opened in 2018.
Police call logs reveal a number of calls to the area for shots fired, stabbings and other disturbances over the years. Surveillance video from August shows two men shooting at each other on a small street next to the club with bullets striking a neighboring business.
In the past year alone, Taylor says there were 154 calls to service involving Culture.
“At Culture, those include aggravated assault, assault, brandishing a firearm, domestic assault, hit-and-run, larceny and vandalism,” Taylor said.
Michael Copeland, one of the club's four co-owners, says his business is unfairly shouldering the blame for incidents to which it has no connection.
“We don't have that violence that they're speaking of,” Copeland told News 3 last week. “We've never had that violence that they're speaking of. You could probably look up records for any establishment on Granby and there's calls for service.”
Martingayle also argued there’s no evidence connecting Culture to that violence, saying the club has no legal violations and is shouldering the blame. He calls the process a political stunt.
“We’ve got a violence problem, but the answer isn’t to hammer on our citizens and our businesses," said Martingayle. "The
the answer is to work with them."
Mayor Kenny Alexander said this agreement shows the city is working with them, adding those calls for service are a cause for concern.
"Those calls came from either the security, or the operator, or management or an employee of that club, of that establishment," he said. "Therefore it’s related to that establishment."
Martingayle says he sent an eight-page letter to Norfolk city leaders arguing against the club's closure, saying some of the criticism against it is based on the skin color of the customers and the club's owners, all four of whom are Black.
"You've got some comments there that are very thinly veiled racist remarks," he told News 3. "[The city attorneys] haven't been able to develop any track record of problems that shows that the employees or anybody there is doing or failing to do anything that is causing any outrageous or lawless behavior. They've got nothing."
A change.org petition in support of Culture had more than 1,700 signatures by Tuesday evening.
Neighboring businesses News 3 spoke with earlier Tuesday didn't want to appear on camera, but disagree, saying they believe Culture is to blame for the violence.
Copeland, one of Culture’s owners, got emotional at Tuesday's hearing, saying he’s worked hard to turn the club into a success.
"We really took all the proper steps," said Copeland. "At this juncture we’re in here as if we’re criminals, and looked at as if we did something wrong."
About a dozen supporters stood up, showing their support. But in the end, it wasn’t enough.
Culture’s owners run two other restaurants downtown. The mayor says there are no complaints with those establishments and they're doing well. Moving forward he’s hopeful Culture will have the same success as a restaurant.