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Ruling Favors Hip-Hop Club

Virginia Commonwealth University's bid to oust the 534 Club has been rebuffed.

In mid-February, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board dismissed charges that the hip-hop hotspot on North Harrison Street, near the university's academic campus, had become a haven for illegal drugs, violence and underage drinking.

After two days of testimony on Oct. 6 and Dec. 20, ABC Administrative Hearing Officer Sara M. Gilliam concluded there wasn't enough evidence to support five of the six complaints against the club. Gilliam penalized the club, however, for failing to "obliterate the mixed beverage stamps immediately when containers of alcoholic beverages were empty." That infraction comes with a $1,000 fine. Mostly, though, club owner Nat Dance was pleased with the decision, if not a bit surprised. Considering VCU's political clout, he says, he figured his business was doomed. "I just didn't think I was going to get a fair deal," Dance says. "I feel like it's a weight lifted off of my shoulders."

VCU's news services office did not return several phone messages from Style. Paul Timmreck, senior vice president for finance and administration at VCU, also didn't return a phone call seeking comment. It's unclear whether VCU will appeal.

In an attempt to have 534 Club's liquor license revoked, the university had filed a litany of complaints against the club with the ABC in August. In late October, Timmreck told Style that the violent atmosphere in and around the club was "bone-chilling."

In hearings before the ABC, university police testified to the raucous atmosphere outside the club after its 2 a.m. closing, especially on weekends. Fights often erupt, police say, and altercations often involve handguns.

Gilliam, however, concluded there wasn't enough evidence to show that the violence on the street is directly linked to the 534 Club. And the evidence, she continued, didn't support claims that the establishment had become a place where "illegal drugs are regularly used or distributed" or a where underage drinking occurs.

Dance, who also owns and operates the upscale Manhattan's restaurant on Fifth Street with his mother, former Petersburg Mayor Rosalyn Dance, says he plans to pay the $1,000 fine and go on with his business. "We were just looking for fairness," Dance says. — Scott Bass

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