Now comes the real buzz kill: Partying past 1:30 a.m. anywhere in Westport could eventually be illegal.
For Jim Grow, the president of Westport Neighbors United, the decision means something more: street cred.
In the early '90s, he bought a house on the 3900 block of Wyandotte Street -- just 300 feet from a warehouse-sized structure that since the '70s had been home to clubs such as Fanny's, Guitars and Cadillacs, the Coliseum and Atlantis.
"When we first bought the house, I didn't know anything about [the club]," Grow says. "My wife and I didn't drink at the time. People don't check out if there are any bars in the neighborhood. You check for schools and stuff like that."
In 1999 the club got a makeover, shifting from the aquatic-themed Atlantis to the goth-styled XO. Grow says the thumping dance anthems, late-night catcalls and noise from irregular trash pickups kept him awake at night. After closing time, partiers fought, threw beer bottles near Grow's home and urinated in his yard. Other neighbors say they found crack pipes in the street and saw couples having sex in cars.
Grow says he contacted the club manager to complain but was rebuffed. So in September 1999, he rounded up about ten residents and formed Westport Neighbors United. In 2000, the WNU hired Legal Aid lawyer Jeff Williams to fight the club.
At the same time, XO increased its cleanup and security efforts, says Sleiman Abdullah, the club's general manager. But the WNU was unimpressed; in November 2000 the neighbors voted to try to close the club. After picketing the club and complaining to the company in charge of XO's parking lease, Grow and three others filed the public-nuisance lawsuit in August 2001.
"We tried to work with them years ago ... but they refused to work with us," Grow says of XO's owners. "They said we could go to hell, so we did. Hell is court."
The club changed hands in August 2003 when XO managing partner Stewart Saloman deeded ownership -- through a corporation called HMKG&C -- to Jeff Holloway, a doctor in Sedalia. Holloway says Grow's lawsuit is unfounded.
"Was he blind?" Holloway asks. "Did he not tour the area before he moved in? These people bought their houses in the '80s and '90s. Did they not realize there was a goddamn club there? If you don't want to hear the sounds of airplanes, you don't move up by the airport."
"The way I feel is, they ought to be owing us money," Abdullah adds. "Jim Grow and the neighborhood organization have done nothing but harass us for the past few years. There was never a problem prior to that. The only problem came when Jim Grow became president of the neighborhood association. The sound level in here has not changed in over twelve years. Hell, if anything, we have less speakers in here than we had before, so I don't know how it could be louder."
Abdullah claims Grow is using XO as his "guinea pig" in an effort to restrict all of Westport's liquor licenses.
"Jim Grow does not work," he says of the 59-year-old retiree. "Yet he is able to sue people ... and make money off of it. He's got a lot of time to put his nose in other people's business."
Since forming the WNU in 1999, Grow has expanded his crusade. He has recruited WNU members to start Citizens for Better Communities, a much larger organization he describes as a "bistate political action group," and the Three A.M. Coalition, a separate entity within the CBC working to reform liquor laws. In city government meetings, on radio shows and on KCPT Channel 19's Week in Review, he has pushed to dissolve the Kansas City, Missouri, School District; develop a 24-hour commercial shopping district with free parking downtown; and move the city's bar district from midtown toward downtown.
"Everybody thinks that we're a bunch of nuts that are going to go out and file a petition," Grow says. "We don't do that. We have countless meetings with the mayor and the City Council, we send countless e-mails, and when we realize nothing is going to happen, that's when we have a lawyer write up a petition to put on the initiative ballots."
On October 14, Grow appeared in Jackson County Court pushing a cart piled with four boxes of notes, a TV and numerous videotapes documenting XO's late-night indiscretions. Having just purchased the club, Holloway arrived to argue the case himself, but O'Malley told him he needed a lawyer because XO was technically owned by a corporation. Facing an opponent unable to speak on his own behalf, Grow won. O'Malley found XO liable for $360,000 in damages.
For loss of sleep, inconvenience, worry, and security and trash problems, the court awarded $12,480 to each of the plaintiffs -- $15 dollars for each night the club was open. For loss of property value, the court awarded the four neighbors payments ranging from $35,000 to $50,000 apiece. Because XO continued to operate after its owners learned of the problems, O'Malley awarded each plaintiff $25,000 in punitive damages.
He also ruled that:
· The club must close by 1:30 a.m.
· While it's open, the club must keep its doors closed or cover them with curtains or other sound-baffling material. Loud music can't be played from any vehicle parked within 50 feet of the club.
· Once a month, XO must check its noise levels to make sure they're within city codes.
· The club must ensure that its garbage contractor complies with city pickup ordinances. Club employees aren't allowed to empty the trash outside between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. XO must provide daily after-hours trash pickup on Central and Wyandotte streets between 39th Street and Westport Road.
· The club must employ security guards to patrol the surrounding blocks from 10 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.
O'Malley also ruled that XO must cooperate with the WNU in requesting that City Hall ban parking on Central Street outside the club. He gave XO thirty days to "join the Westport Neighbors United association and ... become an active participant in the activities of that association."
Holloway had thirty days to appeal but chose not to. "They're coming to me through this court with problems that have already been corrected," he says. Holloway says the club has always had sound-baffling curtains. "We can stand at the front door and carry on a normal-voiced conversation," he says. "When this is all over, we plan on coming back at the homeowners' association with the false documentation that they're claiming," Holloway says. "To me, everything that they're asking for is bullshit."
XO will continue operating, Abdullah says, until Grow files another complaint arguing that the club is in contempt of court.
Undeterred, Grow is continuing his campaign to domesticate Westport. Grow hopes that the city will stop issuing new 3 a.m. licenses to bars like the Cactus Café, which recently took over the space once occupied by Have a Nice Day Café. He also plans to send a letter to the Hurricane, asking managers to shut their Broadway entrance and make patrons enter through a rear door. He intends to rally neighborhood support and ask City Hall to clear the late-night roadblocks allowing only foot traffic on the streets outside the entertainment district's bars west of Broadway. And he's been circulating a petition to limit 3 a.m. licenses to hotels, motels, and clubs downtown.
But the Westport Merchants Association isn't ready to hop on Grow's wagon.
"We have a mix of 1:30 and 3 a.m. licenses, and those 3 a.m. licenses are very important both for Kansas City and for Westport," says the WMA's president, Tom Brenneis. "The trick is to manage that in such a way that it is beneficial to all interest groups."
On a recent Friday night, patrons jiggled away the hours beneath the swiveling lights inside XO. Flashy-shirted men and busty women filled the dance floor, a few of them gyrating in the metal cages around the perimeter. One hour past midnight, the bartender continued pouring drinks. An hour later, the DJ was still spinning records seamlessly. Despite a court order, the late-night romping continued. At 3 a.m., the party spilled from the club into the parking lot.