"Live, Worship, Shop" reads Bellevue's welcome sign, and party promoter Vince Masi has been doing his best to add "dance" to that list. Masi has developed a new venue, The Key Room, in the cavernous G. C. Murphy building, with themed dance nights including the Down & Derby roller-disco party. That is, until last week, when the borough office issued a cease-and-desist letter.
"It's very simple," says Michael Lutz, the borough's chief of code enforcement. "The building has an occupancy permit for retail; does not have one for assembly," which covers night clubs and restaurants, among other things. Lutz says neither Masi nor the building's owner, Sam DiBattista, have submitted a request to change occupancy and the required architectural plans. Until that happens, "I just sent him a letter saying he is to cease and desist all such activity," says Lutz.
"I feel like it was kinda bullshit," says Masi. For the first Down & Derby event, he says he tried to get approval and to hire borough officers as security, but "drinking and rollerskating is always a weird pitch," he says. "They're automatically turned off." Masi says he went back and forth with the borough for several weeks, eventually receiving "a one-sentence letter," that didn't specify what codes he was violating. He continued hosting events with no complaints until receiving the explicit cease-and-desist.
But rezoning is just the start -- the problem is complying with a whole new set of building codes. Masi has consulted with an architecture firm to figure out what the space would need -- at least a sprinkler system and bathroom upgrades, he figures. "It's gonna cost the owner of the building a bunch of money."
According to DiBattista, who also owns the upscale Bellevue restaurant Vivo, that isn't gonna happen. "The bad news is, I have a building that's huge and haven't been able to get the funding together to develop it properly," he says. The building, at 521 Lincoln Ave., also currently includes the Creative Treehouse art space. "We're reached a point where we need an investor, or we're done."
But DiBattista says this is part of larger, positive changes in the Bellevue area: "The borough [government] is going through the whole borough and trying to correct all the zoning issues," which he sees as a good thing. "I'd love to believe that they're just fucking with us, but they're not," he says with a laugh.
Until the Murphy building's fate can be determined, Bellevue's loss is Lawrenceville's gain: Masi has moved most events to Butler Street venues. His '90s dance party "Electric Sweat" is moving to the New Amsterdam (the former A.J.'s Tavern), and "Booty Clap" takes place at Belvedere's on Nov. 22.