Norfolk’s Culture nightclub fights back as city weighs closure

Posted at 11:43 PM, Dec 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-11 00:22:01-05

NORFOLK, Va. – A nightclub in downtown Norfolk is fighting back as the city weighs a decision to shut it down following some complaints of violence surrounding the establishment.

Culture Lounge on Granby Street said it’s being unfairly targeted and blamed. Kevin Martingayle, the attorney for the nightclub, said he plans to address city leaders with an eight-page letter Friday about why trying to shut them down is wrong on so many levels.

Michael Copeland, one of Culture’s four Black owners, said only a couple nearby businesses have an issue with his lounge. He believes the city is being pressured by a small number of people who are loudly speaking out.

Copeland said he’s worked too hard to build the business for the last three years and the city is just looking for someone to blame for the violence that’s happening outside.

“There’s shootings at churches,” he said. “There’s shootings at Walmarts. There’s shootings at gas stations. There’s shootings at the courthouse. They never ever, ever threaten to close the courthouse, the churches, the restaurants, the other businesses, the schools that have shootings. They never shut down the school, never even threaten. It wouldn't even be logical. So why is the logical here when nothing happened in my establishment?”

Surveillance video from August is what put culture under the microscope.

Two men can be seen on camera in the alley next to the club shooting at each other. Dozens of people can be seen running toward safety. No one was hurt but a nearby business was left with a blown-out window and several bullet holes.

Copeland said those two men had nothing to do with his lounge and if the city does shut them down, the impact will be far reaching

“Three weeks before Christmas, two weeks before Christmas, all my employees are looking take care of their kids,” said Copeland. “Also, myself take care of my child and my partners as well.”

Police logs show they’ve been to Culture for several shootings, assaults, and calls for disturbances over a span of three years.

“We don't have that violence that they're speaking of,” said Copeland. “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.”

During Tuesday’s council meeting Dec. 7, Culture’s lawyer argued they’re being unfairly targeted because of their race. He said the business is not violating any laws.

"This is not a situation where you've got any ABC violations,” Martingayle said “There are no criminal violations, no criminal charges. There have been no court appearances. There are no civil claims. There's been no bad behavior inside.”

But not everyone agrees.

Nearby business owners, who did not want to speak on camera, told News 3 they do believe the club is a magnet for violence and want it closed.

Nancy Trammell recently moved from the area after she says the NEON District became too dangerous.

“You go to bed at normal bedtime, and you wake up at 1:30, 2 o’clock in the morning with people yelling outside, and hear gunshots at street,” Trammell said. “It got old.”

The owner said he gives back to his community all the time and paid for his neighbor’s shattered window from that shooting over the summer. He said he paid $6,000 of his own money even though he said he wasn’t responsible. He said he did it because it was the right thing to do.

Meantime, the city council is meeting this Tuesday, Dec. 14 to decide on Culture’s future.

During the council meeting earlier this week, the city voted to revoke the conditional use permit for another Norfolk nightclub called Origami Asian Bistro on Virginia Beach Boulevard.

On Friday, Kevin Martingayle, who’s representing Culture, said he hand delivered and emailed the eight-page letter to local leaders in City Hall.

The strongly worded letter outlines procedural problems with the way the city is going about to possibly shut its doors. Martingayle said the city has no evidence proving why Culture’s conditional use permit should be revoked.

The city attorney’s office argues they do have evidence that several conditions of the permit have been violated but wouldn’t explain what those violations are.

Martingayle believes the club is being unfairly targeted because the owners are Black. He said complaints about Culture were racist and discriminatory. One person said Culture “attracts the worst of society.”

“You've got some comments there that are very thinly veiled racist remarks that have been included in the materials that supposedly justify shutting down a viable, vibrant, successful business,” said Martingayle. “Norfolk needs to do better than that. Norfolk needs to fix this.”

Martingayle said the business is getting blamed for violence happening outside the club.

“What we have is a laundry list of stuff that is supposedly occurring nearby the establishment and somehow the owners and the employees of the establishment are supposed to be responsible for what’s going on outside,” he said “Well, they’re not deputized. They don’t have guns and badges. They don’t have the legal responsibility for figuring out what’s going on outside. They simply don’t have that legal ability. They don’t have that legal authority. They don’t have the power. What we really have here is a failure of leadership and failure of law enforcement.”

Martingayle believes shutting down a vibrant, successful business with no clear explanation is wrong.

“They can't point to any criminal misconduct inside of the place,” he said. “They can't point to any regulatory or legal violations by the owners or the operators or the employees. They 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, and that's why they want to go the political route instead of the legal route. Everybody should be concerned about that. That's not justice. That's not due process.”

A city spokesperson said leaders did get Martingayle’s letter Friday but have no comment.

Martingayle is hoping to have a conversation with city leaders before Tuesday’s council meeting so they can come up with a better security plan to make sure the area around the business is safer but he said repeated requests to do that have been denied.