Club owner refutes allegations

By M. Robert Berg

One of the two owners of Phat City defended the club against allegations that arose at the last DeKalb City Council meeting, and said their portrayal as “gangsters” was unfair and unjustified.

At the Nov. 8 council meeting, a public hearing was held concerning teen club regulations. “The impetus for this hearing is the public concern recently raised by the operation of Phat City, a nonalcoholic teen club that has been operating in the 100 block of North Fourth Street for about one month,” stated City Manager Bill Nicklas in a memo to the council.

Phat City was the only under-21 club in DeKalb until it closed last weekend. The city bought the property this month with intentions to demolish the building.

Phat City co-owner Burdett Griffin answered allegations brought by the city council and some DeKalb residents at the public hearing, including teens violating curfew laws, patrons drinking alcohol outside and the perceived presence of gang activity.

“I’m upset with the city council, who’s portraying us to be like gangsters who came to rape the town,” Griffin said. “We started out as a legitimate business, and now that’s being distorted.”

Griffin said the club is here to provide a service, and to give the under-21 crowd a place to hang out. “We’ve had many compliments from police officers, telling us the kids in DeKalb aren’t hanging out in the parking lots anymore,” he said. “We’ve taken a lot of kids off the streets and given them a place to go.”

The city’s negative attitude toward his club bothered Griffin. “Why are they so negative toward the club?” he asked. “All we set out to do was provide a positive atmosphere.”

Relations between the city and the club did not start out bad, Griffin said. “There was a man down at the municipal building who worked with us,” he said. “He was excellent. He provided us with a list of ordinances, we complied with 100 percent, and he gave us the dos and don’ts.”

Regulations were double and triple checked, and the business was inspected two or three times, Griffin said. “The door was always open to the police or inspectors,” he said.

The club was accused of mixing 14 and 21-year-olds, which Griffin said was true to an extent, but the club did its part to enforce the curfew laws. “At 11 o’clock every night we were open, the music was turned off, the lights were turned on, and it was announced that it was 11, and if you are under 17, please leave,” Griffin said.

While some underage people did stay in the club, enforcing curfew became the problem of the parents after the announcement, Griffin said. “Every weekend, people are caught in bars and liquor stores underage, and nothing is said to that (establishment),” he said. “The responsibility is put on the individual, and fingers aren’t pointed at those other places.”

The allegation there was drinking outside Phat City, and the inference this alcohol was provided within the club, was also unfair, Griffin said.

“If I saw prostitutes outside of the mayor’s house, can I safely assume that he slept with them or he’s their pimp?” Griffin asked. “Indirectly saying that we are providing (alcohol) is unfair to us.”

Griffin compared the situation to bottles usually found outside the Holmes Student Center. “You see alcohol bottles outside of the student center. Does that mean they serve alcohol at the hotel (inside)?”

Gang activity is also not present at the club, Griffin said. “Why is it any time a group of blacks congregate, it’s assumed to be gang activity?” he said. “Do we have to have that stereotype?”

Griffin wondered if the people making all the allegations had actually ever came to the club to see it for themselves. “Do they have any facts to support their allegations?” he asked. “We’ve never had a fight in the club, never had anyone arrested for intoxication, and never had the problems they sometimes have at the bars.”

Although the city has been thinking about buying the property for some time, the presence of Phat City may have served to speed up the process, Griffin said.

“I’m sure it was a catalyst to act faster,” he said. “There was no rush before we moved in, and now they buy it with more money (available to them now) than they originally proposed.”

The city was wrong in going to the press instead of speaking with Griffin and his partner directly, he said. “Instead of going to the paper and exploiting the press with negative images, why didn’t the city come to us and discuss it if there was such a big problem?” Griffin asked. “We’re businessmen, and we could have discussed this among ourselves.”

Griffin said there are plans to relocate the club, but nothing has been finalized yet. “We’re in the planning stage now,” he said. “We’ll be back, bigger and better.”

“Every weekend, people are caught in bars and liquor stores underage, and nothing is said to that (establishment). The responsibility is put on the individual, and fingers aren’t pointed at those other places.”