HAMLET — Sam and Lisa West, owners of The Ballroom, showed up at a special — called meeting of the city council where the topic of discussion was to be “zoning issues and potential amendments to the zoning ordinance as it relates to businesses used as event rentals where the sale of alcohol will occur and admission fees are charged.”
During the “comments of the council” section of last month’s regular meeting, councilman Jesse McQueen expressed concerns about recent events at the Ballroom and complaints he received from a nearby church and other residents.
In August, McQueen told the council, “I’ve got a major problem with some issues going on at the lower end of Hamlet Avenue down at the railroad tracks. The Ballroom’s being rented out for the purposes of weekend parties and what not, and it’s getting out of hand. There is litter left everywhere, people urinating out in the street. People carrying cups (alcoholic beverages) around in the streets.”
Early in Tuesday’s meeting, Sam West explained that the last time he was made aware of an altercation at The Ballroom, he contacted officials about it himself.
“Security told me they had the guy in cuffs already,” he said. “His family was inside The Ballroom, and he called them after he had left and told them what was going on. His family was full of girls, and the girls came out there, started trouble with security, and they had to handcuff the guy. Then they called the police. They came down there, and I reported the incident on Sunday after church.”
“I believe you called or texted Mayor Pro-Tem Buie and Chief Scott Waters,” City Manager Marcus Abernethy said.
“Yes,” West answered. “I wanted them to find out about it first. But I took the guy’s key, and I told him no more trouble could be started. None whatsoever. And we both agreed, and he gave me his key right then. He doesn’t have a party scheduled over there.”
West said The Ballroom opened 16 years ago, and that the last thing he wants to do is “run a club.”
“I have grown up in shag clubs all my life,” he explained. “And that’s basically harsh, but the last thing I want my building to be is a club.”
He said that two days before a Daily Journal article about McQueen’s comments from the August meeting was published, while he was in Florida, a man contacted him about renting the building for a party.
“I said, ‘Give me details,” he continued. “He said, ‘We’re music artists and we want to come promote a CD.’ This was before the article came out. I turned that party down. I turned six of them down since this was reported in the paper. We’re going to do the right thing. I don’t want The Ballroom or that particular corner of Hamlet to get the reputation that it’s gotten.”
He said that if someone had come to him first he would have been happy to discuss the issues, but added that no one got in touch with him. He said he believes the timing of the article in the paper complicated matters.
Councilman David Lindsey said, as a businessman located on the same street for thirteen years, he had walked past The Ballroom several times and had never noticed “an excessive amount of beer cans.”
“It might have been this one incident,” he said.
McQueen said the past parties of concern had been billed as “Anson versus Richmond versus Scotland Lose My Mind Lingerie Party: admission $3.00, glow sticks $1.00,” and another one advertising a “Birthday bash pool party, V.I.P $5.00” and a “4th of July Swimsuit Bash” with an entry fee of $5.00,” among others.
West said he does have events scheduled, but none like the ones McQueen described — emphasizing that since becoming aware of problematic renters he has turned such parties down.
Hamlet Police Chief Scott Waters said officers had been called to The Ballroom to investigate alleged sales of alcoholic beverages to minors.
“It was only fruit punch,” he said.
Lisa West said that “a lot of that has been news to us,” speaking of the questionable parties that have taken place at the business recently.
“I think that we would have liked a heads up at some point,” she said. “If there was talk around town, it never came to us. Maybe four or five people said something to (McQueen,) but nobody has said anything to us.”
The council members and the Wests finally agreed that the concerns were not leveled specifically at The Ballroom, but rather at the activities reported in the complaints.
Councilman Eddie Martin suggested there appeared to no longer be a need for any amendments to existing zoning ordinances.
“It seems that Mr. West, having the information he has now, is going to take care of this,” Martin said. “If everything works out, it will work itself out and we won’t need an ordinance.”
The meeting concluded with no changes to the existing ordinance.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.