DeKALB – Noting a litany of health and safety concerns, plus the passing of more than five months since Otto's closed, DeKalb city leaders have required the business owner to surrender his liquor license.
The embattled music venue at 118 E. Lincoln Highway has been closed since January, when a pipe burst and flooded the building.
DeKalb's city code says a business that is closed for more than 120 days is considered a discontinued business and must turn over its liquor license to the city. Failing to return the license could lead to a $500 fine, plus $250 for each day the license is not returned, according to local law.
Business owner Patrick Looney said without the liquor license the building is worthless to him. While he will wait to see what happens at a hearing regarding the license scheduled for later this month, right now he does not intend to apply for a new liquor license.
"If we lose in the hearing, that’s it," Looney said Thursday. "I’m not going to apply for another license there. They’ll have another boarded up building in downtown. If they want it they can have it.”
The certificate, which allows the venue to serve alcohol, is one of the city's concerns, according to a hearing notice the city sent to Looney.
“The premises utilized by the Licensee are in dangerous, hazardous and unsafe conditions, having suffered extensive water damage and damage due to deterioration and neglect over an extended period of time,” the hearing notice from the city states.
Frigid January weather may have caused a pipe in the ceiling to burst and water to flood the building, which also housed Ducky's Formal Wear. Ducky's since has moved to another space downtown and Otto's staff has gutted the interior.
Otto's, however, does not have the permits to rebuild or renovate. Looney said he has been trying to get permits to rebuild the bar for months, but was told he needed plans for the entire building.
The business would have to submit planning documents to the city including architectural plans and receive approval from the DeKalb City Council before proceeding with construction, DeKalb Mayor John Rey said, adding the city wants to be as responsive as possible to responsible businesses
“Not giving attention to maintenance to me is not being a responsible business owner,” Rey said.
The complaint lists several safety and health concerns, including electrical faults, exposed wiring, holes in the floor and ceiling and non-functional bathrooms. Conditions inside Otto's are significant enough to warrant the city revoking the liquor license, the city contends.
What's more, the city alleges that Otto's installed video gaming machines at its bar without obtaining a video gaming license from the city. Looney argued the three video gaming machines were installed the day before the flood and no one ever played them. Not having a city license was a miscommunication with the company that delivered the machines, he said.
"It's just another excuse they're using to shut the place down," Looney said.
The city believes the violations “exhibit a pattern of repeated and flagrant violations.”
Rey, operating as the DeKalb's liquor commissioner, will detail the city's concerns and charges against Otto's at a hearing set for 2 p.m. July 15 at city hall, 200 S. Fourth St. Looney also will be able to make his case before Rey makes a decision regarding the business.
“We are not going to be unreasonable," Rey said, "but we are going to look at public safety and health concerns in the building.”