Ybor business owners ecstatic about the demise of Club Empire

Sunday said originally when he opened his restaurant earlier this year he intended to stay open late, but couldn't do so because of what he called the gang presence, or "the riff-raff," that congregated outside the club on weekend nights.

Vince Pardo is the manager of the Ybor City Development Corporation (YCDC). He said Joel Brewer had "done the right thing at this point in time. What we wanted was to make Ybor City safer, and not do anything that blemishes the historic district, and this move I think has done that."

Don Barco, who owns King Carona Cigars, called it a "great day in Ybor City." But he cautioned that many of the clientele at Empire who have caused some of the problems over the years are "fanning out to other places," and he says that the Tampa Police are still keeping as busy on those weekend nights keeping the peace, even with Empire's reduced crowds.

There was tremendous community pressure for the city of Tampa to strip owner Joel Brewer of his liquor license after the latest violent incident, but that was easier said than done, according to members of Tampa's legal department.

Several years ago the city dealt with an equally unpopular club in East Tampa, Gene's Bar, by buying out the owner.

Council members expressed concern about the fact that Brewer could possibly purchase another club in Ybor or elsewhere in the city that already has a wet zoning license, and thus they could be powerless to stop him from running that establishment.

Speaking with reporters after his surprising announcement, John Brewer spoke with tears in his eyes, sad, he said, because of the loss of the business. When asked about the hostility that many members of the community expressed about Club Empire two weeks ago at the Council's last meeting (including an emotional appearance by Leslie Jones Jr.'s mother, who also called on the Council to shut it down), Brewer called it "irrational," and he disagreed with the perception that it was a dangerous place to hang out in.

TPD says over the past decade there had been three other murders, 10 robberies and over 100 arrests for drugs at Club Empire. After the October 2 incident, Empire installed a metal detector at the front of the club, as well as other security features that essentially closed down the club, as attendance plummeted.

Brewer says the building at 1902 E. 7th Avenue is now up for sale (their last night of business was Saturday night). He says they're looking for "fair market value." He said that the club laid off around 20 employees.

CL asked John Brewer why his brother, the owner of the club, couldn't make the announcement himself.

"It's very emotional," he sighed.

Brewer also admitted that Club Empire has been contacted by an attorney from the law firm of Morgan & Morgan regarding the death of Leslie Jones Jr.

  • Restauranteur David Sunday called the news "fantastic"

For years, merchants in Ybor City have complained about the violence and general unsavory behavior emanating from two hip-hop clubs, Club Fuel and Club Empire, saying that they needed to go away for the entertainment district to thrive again.

Fuel was closed down a couple of years ago, and stunningly Club Empire is also no longer in existence, after a terse announcement was made this morning at the Tampa City Council meeting by John Brewer, the attorney and brother of the owner of the club, Joel Brewer.

The reason for closing the club was simple - nobody was going to it anymore, John Brewer said.

The dramatic reduction in attendance (reportedly up to 90 percent) has come in the last month, after the October 2 killing of 20-year-old Leslie Jones jr. was slain in the club's VIP room, while a second man, 19-year-old Ahmaud Black, was seriously wounded.

Needless to say, business owners in the district we're thrilled to hear the news of the club's closing.

"That's fantastic," said David Sunday, owner and chef of Sunday's Fine Dining restaurant, one of the closest establishments next to Empire on the eastern side of the 7th Avenue entertainment district.

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