MOBILE — According to its attorney, Studio 5’4″ in downtown Mobile has permanently closed its doors — a move that followed a massive block party last weekend that drew more than 2,000 people to the city’s entertainment district.
The closing could also be an attempt to stifle a similar gathering planned for Sept. 5. That event is categorized by its organizers as “Perfectly Legal And Safe Fun.” However, the city of Mobile seems to disagree.
George Talbot, a spokesperson for Mayor Sandy Stimpson, said the gathering at the intersection of Dauphin Street and Joachim Street on Aug. 30 was organized on social media. As the event extended into the early hours of Sunday morning, police responded to a fight and eventually to a shooting that sent two to the hospital.
The victims, both shot in the leg, are expected to make a full recovery. A handgun was also recovered by authorities at the intersection of Joachim and Dauphin, but the Mobile Police Department has not identified a suspect and has released little information on the investigation.
The event itself appears to have been organized by Insomnia Squad LLC, a promotion company based in Mobile. A Lagniappe records review revealed Insomnia Squad is not listed with the Secretary of State’s list of limited liability companies, but the group has been involved with promoting live music, nightclubs and even charitable events in the Port City for multiple years.
Despite the obvious popularity of the “block party,” Talbot said the gathering was illegal for several reasons, including that it was not pre-approved or permitted by the Mobile Police Deparment. Now, the city and the MPD are taking steps to prevent future “unsanctioned” gatherings.
“It’s in everybody’s best interest that we don’t have another situation like that,” Talbot said. “It was unsanctioned and the city and law enforcement were unprepared for it.”
The block party has also been linked to Studio 5’4’’, if by nothing more than public opinion. While Insomnia Squad has promoted events at the club before, Talbot said the owners of Studio 5’4’’ told law enforcement and other city officials they were unaware of the events being promoted outside of the establishment.
That appears to be reflected in a social media post the club made on Tuesday announcing a “temporary” closure, which later evolved to be permanent after the city began talks of revoking the establishment’s business licence.
Talbot said Studio 5’4’’ voluntarily closed for business ahead of the second planned block party Sept. 5. He also mentioned the city and an underage drinking task force comprised of several law enforcement agencies have a history with the club.
In fact, Studio 5’4’’ was found to be “not in compliance” during an underage drinking operation conducted as recently as Aug. 20.
On Wednesday, Executive Director of Public Safety Rich Landolt commended the owners of the club for closing its doors temporarily, but he said the city would be looking to pull its business license.
Addressing the Mobile City Council, Landolt said the club has been promoting “illegal” block parties. In addition, he accused the club of providing a “strip club” atmosphere and said there had been confirmed reports of underage drinking there on previous occasions.
According to the Alabama Secretary of State’s website, Studio 5’4″ is listed under DavNoe LLC, which was incorporated in 2010 by Noell Broughton and David Shipman. Broughton directed questions to attorney Stoney Chavers, who gave some clarification on the club’s closing.
“We are not going to reopen the club and we are not going to rebrand the club,” Chavers said. “We are doing so voluntarily and independently. There are no formal or pending charges by the city of Mobile, no fines, orders, mandates or edicts against them. There’s nothing from a criminal standpoint.”
Chavers said the decision was based on what “they felt was in the best interest of patrons of downtown and other business owners in the area.” He also reiterated that Studio 5’4” “didn’t have anything to do with the block party that was posted on social media” and in fact had no prior knowledge of it.
Images from the promoter’s Facebook page show Insomnia Squad purporting to be involved with prior of events at the club, but when asked about Studio 5’4”’s historical relationship with the promoter, Chavers said “we’re not going to comment on that.”
Talbot said city officials received complaints from neighboring businesses that share space with Studio 5’4″ in the entertainment district, several of whom met with city officials earlier this week.
“We met with a big group of downtown restaurant and bar owners and the Downtown Mobile Alliance about the shooting, but also to hear their concerns and to talk about our plans going forward,” Talbot said. “We all have a shared interest in having a safe and successful downtown entertainment district, and pretty much everybody identified that particular club as being the source of the problem.”
Promoters with Insomnia Squad, including its self-proclaimed CEO Travis Poellnitz, have not responded to opportunities to contribute to this story, but have been making several claims on public social media pages — many of which accuse the city of “racial profiling” because a vast majority of those that attended the gathering Aug. 30 were African American.
In several posts, Poellenitz and others pointed to the Dauphin Street Beer Festival, a city-sponsored event in its 18th year that was held earlier on the night of Aug. 30. According to the city, Beer Fest brought 4,000 people downtown, but in one post, Poellenitiz characterized it as a “white people event” and blamed Beer Fest for litter that was left behind in the area of the block party.
According to Mobile County Metro Jail records, there were 21 DUIs, five cases of public intoxication and several mixed drug charges on the day both events were held, but it’s difficult to know if they stemmed from either event.
That may be at odds with the city’s plan, which according to Talbot, includes a significant police presence downtown this weekend. He also said clearly that there would not be a repeat of last week’s “unsanctioned” gathering.
“They’re being proactive and they’re going to have a major presence this weekend, and really until things calm down,” Talbot said.
The increased presence may not be the only change, as Talbot said the city was planning to step up the enforcement of the ordinances governing the entertainment district — ordinances he said “may not have been strictly enforced” before.
One of the rules Talbot mentioned was the use of to-go cups, which are allowed in the entertainment districts, if they are branded with the logo of their respective establishment or the LoDa logo. LoDa cups are available through Main Street Mobile, but not all bars and restaurants use them, with several opting instead to use plastic cups without a distinguishing logo.
The rules of the entertainment district also forbid the consumption of alcoholic beverages purchased outside the district and any alcohol in cans, bottles, unbranded paper or plastic cups, or glass containers.