Daniel Yarbrough (left) and Alfredo Lopez presented their plans to reopen Club Evo in downtown White Center to the North Highline Unincorporated Council on July 7.
North Highline UAC tackles reemergence of Club Evo in White Center
Club with a troubled past hopes to reopen with a promise of better security; many citizens fear the worst
North Highline Fire District’s meeting room was packed beyond available seating on July 7 as the North Highline Unincorporated Council invited the owner of currently-defunct Club Evolucion (or Evo), Alfredo Lopez, and his new partner/eventual day-to-day operator Daniel Yarbrough to speak about their plans to reopen the spot.
Club Evo was shut down in fall 2010, an injunction placed upon the business for operating without proper licenses that violated land use and building code requirements. Lopez has met with the King County Department of Development and Environmental Services recently to find out what steps are required to remove their injunction. According to James Chan with DDES, Lopez first needs to pay off back taxes associated with the property and then they can start applying for the required permits. Lopez said he is in the process of installing a sprinkler system as well that will increase the club’s allowed capacity (and there will be fire marshal and Seattle Public Utility OKs needed in that arena).
Beyond the technical issues, community outcry had been raging for some time over the Friday and Saturday night crime linked with Evo’s all-ages club. There were reported fights outside – sometimes involving guns and knives, windows broken in downtown White Center, teenagers drinking in their vehicles before going into the club and, according to a q13fox.com story, a shooting inside the club on September 4, 2010.
According to Lopez, things will be different this time around.
A new plan
Lopez said there were three main problems with Club Evo the first time around. First, when he moved to Southern California and tried to run the business from afar he learned that he did not have the level of control needed to keep things from getting out of hand. To combat this issue he partnered with Yarbrough who also runs the Citrus club on Lake Union. Yarborough will be in charge of security and day-to-day operation of the club that will initially only be open for Saturday night 18-and-over crowds, playing Latin country music marketed to the areas Hispanic population. Lopez said he has eventual plans to obtain a liquor license for a bar separate from the dance floor and a restaurant.
Second, he said the majority of problems resulted from the Friday hip-hop music nights that were put on by a different promoter. He said he will no longer allow hip-hop music in the club. “I will never do that again,” Lopez said in regards to renting the space to outside promoters.
Thirdly, Lopez said many of the crime problems resulted from running an all-ages club. He believes gang activity at the club was primarily caused by patrons under 18 and moving to and 18-and-up model will resolve those issues.
Security wise, Lopez said he plans to hire off-duty police officers in addition to private security to keep things under control. As an aside, King County Sheriff Captain Joseph Hodgson said hiring off-duty officers may not be possible if they obtain a liquor license.
“Back to where we began, the dance place initially was for the Latin community because there is a large Latin community here that wants a place to dance,” Lopez said. “That’s our initial intention is to get the club back up and running to allow that opportunity for the Latin community.”
“My number one priority will be safety because my wife will be working there, I’ll be working there, my oldest son and oldest daughter will be working there,” he added.
Operating partner Yarbrough said, “Safety is our number one concern … we will be paying out of our pockets for three off-duty cops plus squad vehicles on Saturday nights.”
“They (security) not only help our business but they help (with) any kind of fights or anything going on on the streets (16th Ave S.W.) so they help other businesses also because there are a lot of bars along that road,” he added.
Community concerns persist
“It’s just a concern that we have heard from you for years – you were in arrears in your taxes for three or four years, you didn’t have the proper permits and it was problem after problem and now you are coming to us and saying ‘It’s all going to be great,’ and there is a lack of trust,” NHUAC President Barbara Dobkin said. “We don’t know what your real plans are and you’ve never really been honest with us as a community … we have some new businesses here and we don’t want to go back (to the problems with Club Evo in the past).”
Members of the NHUAC and audience members expressed doubt over Lopez’s contention that the instances of fighting, vandalism and littering of the past would be solved by stopping hip-hop music nights and only allowing an 18-and-over crowd, citing King County Sheriff statistics that 911 calls to downtown White Center dropped by 40 percent on Friday and Saturday nights after Club Evo was shut down.
Lopez countered by saying White Center has those problems whether Club Evo is around or not.
“I bought my building in 2000 and I can tell you the streets of White Center were not a pretty sight. There were shootings, there was a lot of crime, I was scared to walk at night in White Center. I brought King County Sheriff’s off-duty deputies to work with me on Saturday nights and it did clean up the street on Saturday nights and that’s something you cannot deny.”
“White Center, to me, it doesn’t look like it has improved,” Lopez said.
With a capacity of nearly 300 people (and the possibility of that number growing to 400 or more once the sprinkler system is installed), the problem of people coming in from as far as Tacoma and where they will park was raised. Lopez said he plans to discuss renting lot space from nearby businesses on Saturday nights to curb the problem.
“My concern is that you are bringing a lot of people into the neighborhood. The parking is an issue in that these people are coming into our streets, parking on the residential streets, bringing people out at all hours of the night into our streets,” Dobkin said.
Mac McElroy, owner of the Triangle Pub in White Center and member of the White Center Chamber of Commerce attended the meeting as well.
“The story you are telling us … I believe,” he said. “I believe that your number one priority is to take care of your family, I believe that you won’t have any violence inside the club. I also know that I’ve seen the influx and the outflow from your club, I’ve seen the litter that comes with it, I’ve seen the fights that come with it, it’s not age determined. I think it would be awesome if we had a Latin dance club in White Center, just not yours because what you’ve done is you lied to the community, you have made poor business decisions with regards to the community and there is absolutely no reason that there should be the expectation that you’re going to do anything different from what you’ve done before based on the track record.
“When Club Evolucion was finally closed down, and it took a lot of effort from the community to close you down, it was a godsend and there was a difference in the way the community feels; a different vibe going on. I represent the White Center Chamber of Commerce and I can tell you that the chamber as a body will oppose what you are trying to do.”
An unnamed White Center business owner took the floor next with personal testimony and told the story of having two under-18 teenage daughters who begged and pleaded to be allowed to check out Club Evo. “I thought OK, … it’s the hip thing, it’s the cool thing to do right now, it’s popular.”
His daughters went that first Saturday night and asked to go the following weekend. He said OK and decided to check it out for himself, standing across the street to keep an eye on the club with his daughter’s safety in mind.
“It was about 11:30, maybe even earlier and at that time you had private security … and I watched a fight of ten young men roll out of the doors … and the floor security you had there back up and watch them and do nothing and I’m standing there watching and thinking, ‘Damn, where are my girls?' because I had two of them in there. Then the sirens started coming, the sheriff’s started coming and then all the sudden security started acting like they were going to do something but until they heard the sirens they did absolutely nothing and this brawl broke up in the middle of the street.”
After that night he said he told his daughters they were not allowed to go back, but after a month of increased begging and pleading he decided to let them go one more time about a month later. Once again, he said, a fight broke out in front of the club “and your security is doing nothing but smoking cigarettes and watching them.”
“That was the last time I let my kids go there.”
Yarbrough stepped in at that point and said he plans to have all security guards SPD trained within 60 days of working at the club; a step he believes will keep instances of lax security from happening.
In closing, Lopez said, “This is part of my community and … I have lived here in White Center … and just recently moved to Southern California but I still have - probably the most important asset that I have is my building here in White Center. Obviously I’m investing probably over $100,000 in the building and I want you to understand – am I going to put that money in and create a problem for the community?”
A timeline for Club Evo reopening (with an unknown new name) is not set in stone, depending upon when Lopez’s back taxes are cleared up, how long it takes to get up to code with DDES and the process of installing a sprinkler system.
To speak your mind on either side of the issue, contact King County DDES or your elected officials.