City wants Last Call’s license denied

Weapons violations, other safety concerns cited

The battle stage is set.

Lawrence city leaders Wednesday took the first steps to officially ask state regulators to not renew the license of the controversial downtown nightclub Last Call.

Mayor Sue Hack sent a letter to the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control unit requesting a hearing be held to determine whether the license of Last Call, 729 N.H., should be renewed in November, when its one-year liquor license is set to expire.

The request comes one day after City Manager David Corliss and Hack met with Tom Groneman, director of the ABC.

“Our communications with the department indicated to us that this would be helpful,” Corliss said. “We’re hopeful that it will be.”

Corliss said the city would object to the renewal of the club’s state liquor license on the grounds that the establishment was creating serious safety concerns. In May 2006, seven shots were fired inside the downtown club, sending hundreds fleeing into the street. Police leaders also have reported 21 weapons violations in downtown from June 2005 to June 2007. Many of those violations have occurred in parking lots near Last Call.

Last Call’s owner, Dennis Steffes, when reached Wednesday, said if the city was looking for a battle, he would give it to them.

“If they think I’m going to roll over and play dead, they’re wrong,” Steffes said.

Steffes said city leaders are trying to punish him for activities that have happened outside his club. He said security at his club – which frequently has hip-hop music nights – is extremely strict.

Instead, Steffes said he thinks the city has it out for him because Steffes was the most vocal critic of the city’s smoking ban. He filed several lawsuits challenging the smoking ban, which ultimately was upheld by the Kansas Supreme Court. Steffes also said he thought the hip-hop music the club sometimes plays was a factor in the city’s response.

“We’re not the problem,” Steffes said of his club. “The city has so many other problems to be worrying about. I’m just being picked on for reasons that are painfully obvious.”

When asked to elaborate, Steffes said “it is the smoking thing and there are some racial overtones here.”

Attempts to reach Hack were unsuccessful Wednesday, but the city has previously denied allegations that it is out to get Steffes.

Instead, city leaders have said that ensuring that residents and visitors feel safe in downtown and other parts of the community is paramount. City officials have expressed disappointment that Steffes has not taken a more active role in addressing gun activity and other problems adjacent to his property.

No date for the hearing has been set, Groneman, the ABC director, said. Groneman said he could not comment on the specifics of the Last Call hearing because he likely will serve as hearing officer in the matter.

But Groneman did say that he thinks the hearings can be a good opportunity for cities and bar owners to sit down and discuss problems and possible solutions. He said he had conducted three to four hearings at the request of other cities during his four-year tenure as director of the ABC.