NORFOLK – Kenneth Bullock’s downtown nightclub The Palace has been closed for three months, and it won’t be serving customers anytime soon.
Norfolk Circuit Court Judge Joseph A. Migliozzi Jr. denied Bullock’s request Monday to overturn the City Council’s revocation of his “special exception,” the permit that gave him the right to serve alcohol and offer entertainment.
He intends to continue his fight by filing a petition for review with the Supreme Court of Virginia, his attorney Kevin Martingayle said.
The council revoked the special exception in a 5-2 vote Feb. 28, after city staff accused The Palace of a longtime association with violence, including shootings, stabbings and fights involving patrons. The Norfolk commissioner of the revenue has said the business owes more than $180,000 in taxes – an assertion Bullock disputes.
Bullock has contended the city has no evidence to link his club with wrongdoing. His business has never been formally accused of fire code, health or liquor license violations. He believes The Palace has been unfairly targeted because of his race. Bullock, who owns the building at 200 E. Plume St., is African American.
When council voted on the revocation, several members said race was not a factor.
Closing the club’s doors has made it difficult to pay the mortgage, Bullock said. And while the case is in limbo, he says the city will not consider any other proposals for the property. “I can’t make any money,” Bullock said.
In court, Migliozzi watched about 1½ hours of video recorded from the council’s work session and formal hearing on The Palace.
Martingayle argued the council shouldn’t have held the hearing that night, after four of seven council members voted for postponement . Mayor Kenny Alexander had decided the vote failed because he believed it needed five to pass, citing a rule regarding votes on legislation. But Martingayle said the rule didn’t apply to matters of parliamentary procedure.
Martingayle also argued council members shouldn’t have considered other materials, including a Youtube video apparently taken in front of the club, without his knowledge before the hearing. Martingayle saw council emails he believes showed bias, such as one from Vice Mayor Theresa Whibley to a resident who urged revocation. In it, Whibley wrote that the person was “preaching to the choir,” he said.
Adam Melita, deputy city attorney, said the council followed its rules , and council members were entitled to consider other information.
Migliozzi said he did not believe the use of the five-person voting rule was arbitrary. “The court will assume from that evidence that that is the ordinary course of business for the Norfolk City Council,” Migliozzi said.
Though Martingayle did not discuss The Main in court, in an interview with The Virginian-Pilot after the hearing, he said perhaps Norfolk is hoping for a “more suitable neighbor” for the new hotel conference center.
Bullock said the city complaint about taxes was “bogus.” He said he hasn’t received any communication from the city about it since.
Melita declined in an email to talk about it: “I’m simply not at liberty to discuss whether any particular taxpayer is or is not under action for collection of unpaid taxes.”
By Elisha Sauers
© June 5, 2017