DEBATE OVER the District's attempt to revoke the license of Club U, a nightspot in the heart of the U Street corridor, has taken an ugly turn. City lawyers had asked the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to revoke the club's license because of what they charge has been a "persistent pattern" of violence and unruly behavior in the neighborhood. But club supporters, including two former advisory neighborhood commissioners, contend that race is a factor in the push to close down Club U, an African American-owned business that caters mostly to blacks.
Former advisory neighborhood commissioners Lawrence Guyot and Sinclair Skinner say that black owners -- and establishments with largely black clientele -- are being targeted for eviction because the U Street neighborhood is undergoing an economic revival, with trendy new dining and entertainment offerings and luxury apartments. The charge has been denied by council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents the area. But the issue is clouding the resolution of Club U's fate and the larger question of safety.
The Club U question ought to be easy to resolve. Since the ABC board suspended the club's license after a stabbing incident in February, club owners have presented a security plan to protect patrons, property and the building in which the club is located, which happens to be the D.C. government-owned Reeves Municipal Center. The plan raises the age for admission to 25 and older, imposes a dress code, seeks the hiring of 10 D.C. police officers for reimbursable detail to complement its own roving security staff, and upgrades communications equipment and security screening devices. The ABC board can judge for itself whether the corrective action plan warrants reinstatement of Club U's lease agreement with the D.C. government for the 18 months remaining before it expire. But the board ought to stay within its mandate and scrupulously avoid becoming an agent for development interests.
The larger question is how the city will extend police protection to an area that once again has become a draw for late-night entertainment. The charge by David Wilmot, an attorney for the club's owners, that D.C. police have only four police cruisers -- and no foot patrols -- to cover an area stretching from Eighth and U Streets NW to Connecticut Avenue NW, if true, is stunning. Eight years ago the U Street corridor had about eight liquor-licensed establishments; today there are 32. The city ought to take a close look at the U Street corridor situation the same way it did in the case of the F Street entertainment area -- and then, in consultation with all of the stakeholders, produce a safety and security plan for the area. Closing a dangerous bar makes sense, if warranted by the ABC board. But addressing blatant security weaknesses in late-night entertainment areas -- including issues with troubling racial overtones -- is a responsibility for the mayor and civic community.