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Youngstown City Council: Reject liquor permits for two bars

YOUNGSTOWN — City council approved resolutions formally objecting to the renewal of liquor permits for two businesses, but not for a bar that recently had a mass shooting near it.

Council voted Wednesday to ask the state Division of Liquor Control to deny permit renewals for the All City Sports Bar, also known as Bonanza Bar, on Mahoning Avenue; and Downtown Circle on West Federal Street.

Council voted Wednesday 5-2 on All City and 4-3 on Downtown Circle.

But council voted 5-2 against asking the state to deny a liquor permit for the Torch Club bar and grill on Salt Springs Road.

Two people were killed May 23 and three others shot after an incident inside the Torch Club.

Also, other issues have been reported in and around the bar, including liquor violations, disruptions in the neighborhood, large crowds and parking problems, said Dana Lantz, the city’s deputy law director.

Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th Ward, who lives near the Torch Club and sponsored the legislation, said after the vote: “It deeply saddens me that my colleagues didn’t support the Torch bar (objection). It’s in my ward. I apologize to my constituents. I feel I failed them.”

But Councilwoman Samantha Turner, D-3rd Ward, who voted against all three objections, said: “With all these objections, I’m not 100 percent convinced as a city we’re doing our due diligence to support these businesses” and “I’m not comfortable saying we should strip them of their livelihood.”

Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward, who voted against all three objections, said the city seems to be targeting businesses owned by minorities and “do we essentially put out a business that has a fight or a shooting there.”

Councilman Jimmy Hughes, D-3rd Ward, who voted against the objections for Torch and Downtown Circle, said the shootings near Torch “wasn’t totally the fault of the bar” and they may have been related to “unusual behavior patterns” by people after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We seem to be going with a big ax here,” he added.

In a letter to city council, Ali Alhwayan, the bar’s owner, wrote: “The shooting in question did not occur inside my establishment. The individual arrested for the shooting was barred by my security staff from entering the premises. Unbeknownst to my security staff, this individual waited in ambush for his intended victim to leave the premises. My security staff is instructed to pat down anyone entering the premises for weapons. Had my security staff not barred entry, the shooting would have occurred inside the premises and more people would have been harmed. I have cooperated with the police in their investigation.”

He added: “I deny that my establishment is interfering with the safety, public decency, sobriety, peace and good order of the neighborhood.”

But Alhwayan wrote that he was “willing to close the Torch Bar and place the liquor license in escrow pending sale of the license or relocation of the permit premises.”

The bar has been closed voluntarily since May 23.

Ray said this wasn’t an isolated case.

“It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances that led to the fatalities,” he said. “But leading up to that, starting in early March, there were a number of issues including noise, parking, trash and large crowds. It was total disregard for decency in a neighborhood. It was disruptive until it got worse.”

Council also opposed the renewal license of the All City Sports Bar, which was boarded up in August 2020 at the request of the city.

Magistrate Timothy Welsh of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court agreed to close the bar for a year because “numerous complaints have been received about illegal activity being conducted (there), particularly involving illegal drug and gun activity.”

The business also was cited by police for loud music, allowing an underage person to drink disorderly conduct and drug use. In 2018, a bar patron shot and killed another.

The city didn’t receive a letter from the bar owner.

“It was boarded up as a nuisance abatement and the next step is to do the objection,” Ray said.

The city received a letter from the attorney for the owner of the Downtown Circle. The city opposes the liquor license renewal there because of fights and unruly crowds outside the business, Lantz said.

Alfred G. Tribby Jr., the attorney for Mike Patel, who owns the Downtown Circle, wrote in a letter that being near several downtown bars, “it is no surprise that the crowds that enter and surround Downtown Circle can become unruly at times and due to said crowds and patron’s proximity to each other, even a fight or two has occurred.”

But pointing to Lantz’s comments in a Vindicator article last week, Tribby wrote that the issues at Downtown Circle compared to the other two businesses council opposes “are far different.”

He added: “Downtown Circle is not denying the unruly crowds or condoning any fights, but these issues aren’t felonies, and certainly don’t rise to the same level as the other bars under scrutiny nor does it appear to create a nuisance to the city by disrupting the peace and safety of the neighborhood.”

Removing the business’ liquor license would “likely shut the business down completely,” Tribby wrote.

Patel, according to Tribby’s letter, has hired Youngstown police officers as private security on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; those who go inside the bar are “routinely met with pat downs and security checks with a metal wand,” and has required a cover charge and nearly doubled bar prices “to help keep everyday riff-raff and other undesirables out of the property.”

dskolnick@vindy.com

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