Residents in Platt Park, including a city councilman, say an event center along South Broadway is using a liquor licensing loophole to host loud concerts that end in gunfire and litter.
The building’s owners and operators say those complaints are overblown.
1912 S. Broadway was once a theater and then Thrillseekers Climbing Gym, which opened in 1992 and closed in 2018 when its owner retired. Later that year, the century-old building was sold for $1.6 million to real estate agent Paul Yaft and lawyer Doug Norberg.
After three years of renovations, Yaft and Norberg have restored the art deco theater and leased it to a local company called Latin Entertainment Group, which operates it as the Elite Event Center. Since August, Elite has been throwing occasional Latin music parties there.
“You have houses that are directly behind this event center and they’ve had the luxury of not having any events going on in that building for probably at least five years,” Norberg said. “Now, they’re dealing with cars and traffic and people and music and they don’t like it.”
On Instagram, videos show a nightclub atmosphere of dancing, hard drinking and live music. Neighbors say with that comes screaming, drunken fistfights and weapons.
“We got woken up by gunshots right outside our window and (a neighbor) ended up finding seven shell casings right on the street outside our house,” Platt Park resident Jay Hermele recalled of Labor Day weekend. “That was at about two in the morning.”
He added, “The people I’ve talked to are pretty worried this is going to be a regular thing. Given the residential nature of the neighborhood and all of the kids, it’s a bit of a shock.”
“It doesn’t pass the smell test”
The entity that has been granted temporary liquor permits for the parties at 1912 S. Broadway is not Latin Entertainment Group or the Elite Event Center or the building’s owners.
It is a nonprofit school in Melrose, Fla. — a town so small it doesn’t have a mayor.
The 4 Corners Community School, a homeschooling co-op, filed paperwork to operate in Colorado this March. Since then, it has applied for and received several so-called special event permits from Denver’s Department of Excise and Licenses. Those raise eyebrows in Platt Park.
Special event permits are designed for charities that want to serve alcohol at a fundraiser or annual reception, said City Councilman Jolon Clark, a former nonprofit executive.
“It is not designed for some random school out of Florida that has a connection to somebody who wants to run a for-profit business to find a loophole around doing things the way that they should be doing them,” said Clark, who lives in and represents Platt Park.
Promotional materials for the parties at 1912 S. Broadway haven’t referenced 4 Corners. When asked why 4 Corners is the licensee, Abel Vargas, the owner of Latin Entertainment Group, said only that 4 Corners “works with the venue.” He directed further questions to 4 Corners, which did not respond to several emails and phone calls requesting comment.
“It seems to me like they are trying to regularly program a space for special event permits so they don’t have to go through the process of getting a liquor license, which is a process that the community can weigh in on,” Clark said. “They are circumventing that entire process.”
Eric Escudero, a spokesman for the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, said it has received complaints from neighbors about the parties at 1912 S. Broadway.
“As a result, the city is investigating and working with our public safety partner the Denver Police to address any issues that may impact health, safety and welfare of the community,” he said.
Clark wants the Department of Excise and Licenses to stop issuing special event permits for 1912 S. Broadway until it can determine whether 4 Corners is a legitimate nonprofit and whether the Elite Event Center is providing adequate security and cleanup.
“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said of the nonprofit arrangement. “That’s for sure.”
“We don’t tolerate that”
Residents in Platt Park know how to organize around the common goal of pushing out a problematic business. Ask them and they will tell you about Habibi Hookah Cafe, which closed last year after neighborhood complaints about rowdiness and violence.
“That was a scourge,” recalled resident Andy Melnick, who owns Kaladi Coffee. “There used to be people doing burnouts in the street, fights, broken glass, gunshots every weekend. And the first party they had at this joint (1912 S. Broadway) was the exact same soundtrack.”
A neighborhood email list once compiled to coordinate complaints about Habibi is now used to coordinate complaints about the Elite Event Center. More than 100 people are on it. The Platt Park People’s Association, a neighborhood group, is also working to quiet the Elite Event Center, according to President Jennifer Beason.
Vargas said there have been no shootings outside the Elite Event Center, despite what neighbors allege. BusinessDen requested documents from DPD on the calls it has responded to there but those documents were not provided by press time.
Yaft and Norberg, the property owners, say no one — not a city councilman, not a neighborhood association, not a police department — has told them about safety issues there. They say that at least eight security guards and two off-duty DPD officers work at every party. Yaft and Norberg said there have not been incidents of violence at the venue.
“If that was going on, that tenant wouldn’t be there very long,” Norberg said. “We would take steps to have them evicted from the property because we don’t tolerate that.”
The owners acknowledge trash has been a problem outside the theater but called that “the nature of the beast” at concerts. They say the tenant has hired more cleanup crews and is launching a hotline neighbors can call to have litter removed from their yards.
“We were made aware of the trash issue on Sept. 4 and we had a cleaning crew sweep up the neighborhood on Sept. 5,” Vargas said. “We plan to limit parking in the neighborhood with signage and additional traffic control personnel. We have also hired a cleaning crew to sweep during and after the events.”
As Yaft and Norberg see it, they have restored a historic theater that had become a blighted eyesore — “now it looks like ‘The Great Gatsby’ inside!” Norberg said — and leased it to a company that hosts quinceaneras and occasional weekend parties. Norberg suggested some neighbors “just don’t like the demographic. It’s Mexican music and Mexican people.”
“The music there is not very loud,” said Norberg, who lives nearby. “I have been to two of the shows myself to make sure they had security, that they were doing things appropriately and that everything seemed like it was being run professionally and responsibly.”
Residents like Melnick say they have no problem with quinceaneras and other family events. It’s the loud and dangerous late nights that worry them and their families.
“This whole notion of a rental party space is fraught with peril,” Melnick said, “and it is counter to the residential nature of that neighborhood.”