Nightclub gets license as Fremont East tackles noise complaints

A nightclub at the center of a downtown noise controversy will enclose its outdoor concert venue to make peace with neighbors.

Frank Elam, owner of the building that is home to Azul Tequila, said he is working on plans for walls and a roof around the concert stage at Seventh Street and Ogden Avenue, a stage that abuts guest rooms at the Downtowner, a longtime extended-stay motel at 129 N. Eighth St.

Elam and Francisco Lara, the club owner, commented on the enclosure plans Wednesday after the Las Vegas City Council approved a one-year review of Azul's temporary tavern license.

"I think the only way it can be resolved is if we put a roof over it," said Elam, who estimated it would cost more than $100,000 to deal with the noise controversy.

Spending on an enclosure still beats the alternative for Azul, facing the prospect of a noise ordinance that would be even more costly to the business.

"That would kill me," said Lara, who said he couldn't stay in business if he were forced to curb late-night concerts at the outdoor stage.

The tavern review by the council was brief, with none of the council members making comments before unanimously approving a permanent license for Azul, meaning the club no longer faces regular license reviews. 

But Azul's role in the noise controversy has been the talk of downtown for months, especially because it prompted Ward 5 Councilman Ricki Barlow, who represents the area, to proclaim that perhaps a noise ordinance was in order.

The issue came to a head Sept. 27 during a neighborhood meeting at the El Cortez. More than 100 residents spoke out, sometimes angrily, on both sides of the issue.

Since then, Barlow and city officials have backed off the notion of reimposing noise guidelines they lifted from the area a few years ago to attract clubs like Azul and others that would host live music and breathe life into the formerly rundown area.

City officials instead have decided to let business owners in the neighborhood come up with their own suggestions for managing noise without enacting a new ordinance.

Barlow was absent from the council meeting because of the birth of his daughter.

City spokesman Jace Radke confirmed city plans to let the Fremont East Entertainment District board take the lead on the issue.

"I think we sort of came to a stalemate, and as of right now they have asked that we as a district make our own proposal for a solution," said Michael Cornthwaite, secretary of the Fremont East Entertainment District board and owner of the Downtown Cocktail Room, Emergency Arts and Beat Coffeehouse.

Cornthwaite expects the business owners will craft a proposal that calls on venues to police themselves by keeping noise below certain decibel levels. While not ideal, it's better for the businesses than proposals that have called for curbs on noise as early as midnight.

"A lot of entertainment venues don't really have the ability to draw the crowds they need until late in the evening," he said. "They have got to have a certain amount of hours of that in order to sustain themselves."

He said a city-imposed ordinance would have sapped the energy from the area that prompted business owners to invest in the first place.

"There was nothing down here and now we have something, and the last thing we need to do is spoil it with government bureaucracy and regulation," Cornthwaite said.

Ada Cohen, owner of the Downtowner and critic of Azul's late-night concerts, was not available to respond to the plans for a roof on the venue and self-imposed noise limits for Fremont East.

Sadie Hays, 44, a downtown resident for 16 years, said the emphasis on attracting more people to Fremont East has improved the area, even if it means more noise.

"Fremont is nothing like it used to be," Hays said. "You would see a crack dealer here, a crack dealer there. You don't see that anymore." 

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ or 702-229-6435.