For those familiar with the history of downtown Sarasota, an application to transform a Main Street establishment into a nightclub brings to mind the evolution of Ivory Lounge.
That’s why, as Duval’s New World Café looks to be classified as a nightclub, people within the city are being particularly careful. Duval’s application went before the city’s Development Review Committee Wednesday, and members of the board brought up the history of Ivory as a cautionary tale.
Ivory Lounge was initially imagined and approved as an after-dinner jazz lounge. After being approved as a nightclub — in name only, the city thought — Ivory was able to eventually become a more traditional club under new ownership. Now, city staff is wary of allowing another establishment to follow the same path.
The management at Duval’s New World Café, a seafood restaurant open no later than 10 p.m. on weekends, says it has no plans to transform the business. The nightclub designation would be a technicality, according to land-use consultant Joel Freedman, who represented the business at Wednesday’s meeting.
The restaurant is 300 square feet shy of the minimum size necessary to obtain an SRX license that would allow it to serve liquor — something that it is now attempting to attain as a nightclub.
“They have no intent or desire to be a nightclub,” Freedman said. “They just want to be able to have a cocktail instead of beer and wine.”
Before Wednesday’s meeting, Downtown Economic Development Coordinator Norm Gollub wrote a memo to the DRC recommending denying the application as-is. Gollub said downtown residents were wary of the 1400 block of Main Street becoming an “‘entertainment’ block,” and that nearby condos and the First Methodist Church could serve as a source of conflict with another nightlife business.
“Subjectively, any future nightclub at this location may add to what some see as an abundance of existing establishments in close proximity that serve liquor in the 1400 block of Main Street,” Gollub wrote.
To discourage the perception that Duval’s New World Café could become a true nightclub, the restaurant’s application defines the hours of operation as ending no later than 10 p.m. during the week and midnight on weekends. Additionally, live entertainment would perform no more than three times per year.
With the DRC still concerned that the restaurant could morph under future ownership, Duval’s offered to add another term to its application: The restaurant has to be in operation the entire time the business is open. The group will return to the DRC next month with that revision included, hopeful that the city’s history won’t be too much to overcome.
After the meeting, Gollub said the changes seemed to satisfy the interests of the city and downtown residents.
“Sometimes obstacles aren’t really obstacles, but detours toward a better solution,” Gollub said. “That’s exactly what happened, I think.”
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