Providence Board of Licenses Under Fire Again, Months After Pine Report

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
GoLocalProv News Team and Kate Nagle

Board of Licenses Chair and former State Senator Juan Pichardo with Congressman David Cicilline, whose brother owns the embattled establishment, The Vault.
Recent developments at the Providence Board of Licenses have prompted critics to question the direction of the body, six months after former Attorney General Jeffrey Pine issued a scathing report on its operations

Following concerns about an incident last month at The Vault on Federal Hill — the club in a building owned by Congressman David Cicilline’s brother where a man was shot outside just months ago — board critic and community organizer Sharon Steele was among those who questioned how the license was not revoked.  

“For once, I can honestly say that [city solicitor] Mario Martone presented rationale for revocation,” said Steele, of the city’s call to pull the liquor license at The Vault, following an altercation in late February between patrons at the club — and allegations of overcrowding at the establishment. “And once again, [the club's] aggressive lawyers prevailed, and the board caved.”

Former Board Member on Record

Johanna Harris, the former Board chair who was replaced by Mayor Jorge Elorza in January, took to her blog “Providence Rules” to document The Vault incident and handling by the board. 

“This is a death trap. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. This is a serious incident,” declared Assistant City Solicitor Mario Martone. “There have been revocations for this before. And this is something that the establishment has direct control over. They can very easily control how many people go into their establishment. But here’s the problem. They want as many people in there so they can make more money.”

So went Martone’s impassioned closing argument at a February 27, 2017 show-cause hearing before the Providence Board of Licenses. Relying upon police testimony concerning incidents that occurred in the early morning hours of February 20, the City had charged The Vault with packing 173 patrons along with 12 employees into a space with a legal occupancy limit of 105 persons.

According to a police witness, patrons at one point were banging on the locked front door, trying desperately to get out. “They’ve shown they simply cannot operate responsibly,” concluded Martone. “That’s why this is the perfect case where revocation is appropriate.”

Former Board Member - and Board Chair -- Johanna Harris -- is continuing to document board activities.
Steele, however, spoke to the revocation not occurring at last week’s Board of License hearing.

“They had to present the history -- there was no way to hide that,” said Steele. ‘Did they ever at the hearing admit to the overcrowding? Their lawyer in cross examination said the police did not count properly, so there was not a count for overcrowding per say. When they doled out the punishment it ended up being 90 day loss of BX license, $1000 fine, and a police detail on Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays before the holiday. That's the long and short of what they got."

Steele said she questioned the impact of the Pine report to date. 

“What Pine said over and over again was lack of consistency of fines and other forms of punishment -- in other words, you could have similar set of circumstances, but vastly different outcomes,” said Steele

New Administrator Has Massachusetts Background

Last week, Elorza announced the nomination of Tashi Hamilton as License Administrator and Registrar of Vital Statistics. According to the Mayor’s office, Hamilton’s background is in Massachusetts. 

Hamilton, a financial and management professional, worked for East Cambridge Savings Bank before serving as a Fund Accountant and then Pricing Specialist for State Street Corporation. Most recently she served as a Financial Assistant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She will be relocating to Providence to take on the duties of License Administrator.

“In terms of personnel, that lays at the responsibility of the Mayor,” said Steele. “I have been told that [current license administrator] Serena Conley is staying on after the other person starts. The reality for this other person to be trained, it has to happen with someone else.”

Steele noted where Pine outlined the deficiencies at the administrator’s position in his report.

"Anyone who has spent week in and week out observing the Board of Licenses would know we’re back at square one,” said Steele. “And nothing will change unless we shine the light on it.”

Editor's note: A previous version incorrectly stated The Vault is owned by John Cicilline; it has been corrected to state it is a tenant in the building owned by Cicilline. 

  • August 20

    Van Gogh Nightclub

    The Providence Board of Licenses voted on Saturday at an emergency hearing to shutter the Harris Avenue establishment for 72 hours, after a man was taken to the hospital with stab wounds following a fight in the vicinity of the club in the early hours of Saturday morning. 

    "When folks started calling me, I thought they were reaching out about Tel Aviv -- I had no idea yet another incident had occurred," said Providence Board of Licenses member Johanna Harris, of hearing from people on what she thought was the separate incident that occurred at another Providence club just the night before (see next slide).

     
  • August 19

    Tel-Aviv

    The South Water Street establishment was raided by Providence Police on Friday night, following a weeks-long narcotics investigation.

    WPRI.com reported that two men were arrested - Theo Spyridis, 39, the bar’s manager, and Antonio Reverdes, 47, a customer -- and according to police, with a "good amount of cocaine and significant amount of cash."

    Tel Aviv will now go before the city’s Board of Licenses at an upcoming meeting.

     
  • August 15

    Aqua

    Providence’s Board of Licenses ordered Aqua Hookah Lounge to temporarily close following a violent incident earlier in August - marking the second instance of an issue violence at the establishment. 

    Providence police told WPRI.com a passing officer heard a gunshot and saw people running from the establishment on Broad Street.

    Police said a bullet grazed a man in his arm, but the wound was not serious. The Board decided to close the club for 72 hours -- and revisit the issue. 

     
  • August 8

    Flow

    The police report for the August 8 incident at FLOW nightclub at Cranston Street and Potters Avenue --  that included four stabbing victims -- described victims as saying they were leaving the club at the time the altercation took place.

    The club was closed for three days, and at the August 16 Board of Licenses' continuation of the show-cause hearing, the club entered into a deal with the City that would include police detail during a 45 day review period -- but that the stabbings would not go on Flow's record. 

    "The biggest travesty is they took a witness who'd been subpoenaed  -- and appeared -- and they released him," said Jewelry District Association President Sharon Steele, who attends nearly all Board of License hearings. "Then the city and the club came together on a "recommendation" out in the hall. No witness, no detective testimony, and [the city] allowed them to say it was purely a disturbance of the public but it wasn't a stabbing at the club." 

     

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