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With booze and entertainment barred at The Palace, Norfolk businessman hopes to open under a new name

March 15,2017 14:47

Two weeks ago, the city stripped Kenneth Bullock's right to serve alcohol and have entertainment at The Palace. Now he's trying to open a new business in the downtown nightclub's spot. Bullock, who also owns The Palace's building at 200 E. Plume St ...



NORFOLKTwo weeks ago, the city stripped Kenneth Bullock’s right to serve alcohol and have entertainment at The Palace. Now he’s trying to open a new business in the downtown nightclub’s spot.Bullock, who also owns The Palace’s building at 200 E. Plume St., has submitted plans for a new bar and restaurant there. Under the name Story Bistro, the proposal calls for daily hours of 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., with alcohol sales and entertainment.Bullock said his proposal is a sort of test for the city.“That’s my way of saying, ‘Why are you revoking this?’” he said, adding that he intends to fight the city’s decision on The Palace in court. “Do you have a problem with the operator, or do you have a problem with the business?”One of the points Bullock says he will challenge is whether the City Council should have even held his revocation hearing at a Feb. 28 meeting. Four council members voted for postponement and three voted against, with Councilman Martin Thomas Jr. abstaining because of a conflict of interest.Mayor Kenny Alexander ruled then the postponement motion had failed because it needed five votes to pass. Bullock’s lawyer Kevin Martingayle argued a simple majority of those voting should have prevailed, but City Attorney Bernard Pishko agreed with the mayor.The Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the Story Bistro application following a public hearing April 27. The final decision rests with the council, which could hear the matter in May.The commission’s agenda describes the request as “a new restaurant serving alcohol and offering entertainment options in the location of Palace on Plume, whose special exception was recently revoked.”Bullock said he believes that framing shows the city is trying to sway commissioners against him.

City planners have not decided whether to recommend approval. Norfolk’s planning director, George Homewood, said through a spokeswoman that they will handle the application like any other.On Feb. 28, the council voted 5-2 to revoke The Palace’s right to serve alcohol or offer live entertainment.In a letter, staff had outlined problems with violence at or near The Palace, including the stabbing of four people inside the club in August 2013 and a shooting outside that December. Other problems included assaults, disturbances and intoxicated patrons, the letter said.The five council members in the majority said they agreed with a deputy city attorney, Cynthia Hall, that the business had failed to live up to conditions imposed by the city. She also pointed to a finding from the Norfolk commissioner of the revenue that Bullock owes more than $180,000 in unpaid taxes, a finding Bullock disputes and says he will appeal.Two council members, Angelia Williams Graves and Paul Riddick, said Bullock deserved a chance to improve. They voted to let The Palace keep offering alcohol and entertainment.Bullock, who is black, believes he was targeted because of his race. His lawyer said most of the violence the city blamed on The Palace was committed by patrons who had already left the building.Complicating Bullock’s new proposal for Story Bistro is another pending application to operate a new restaurant in the same building. That proposal, a restaurant referred to as Drai’s VA, was submitted last year by Fabiola Guevara, though the city has yet to put it before the council for consideration.City officials have questioned whether Guevara’s proposal is an entirely separate business or another plan involving Bullock. She has said Bullock’s only role would be as her landlord.Bullock’s application is not intended to compete with Guevara’s, he said Tuesday, but it’s unclear whether he would withdraw the Story Bistro request if Drai’s VA were approved. Guevara declined to comment on the situation.“As long as I own the building, I can put in as many applications as I want,” Bullock said. “I’m never going to lay down to this, ever.”

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