The saga of a potential 11th Avenue LGBTQ club has taken a new turn, with the Manhattan Community Board 4 (MCB4) voting unanimously to turn down the embattled proposal for Club Magnitude — amid vociferous community opposition and concerns that the applicant was not prepared to adhere to soundproofing and safety regulations.
“At no time did anyone unaffiliated with the applicant speak in favor of this application, which is pretty much unheard of on a controversial application, in my experience,” said MCB4 member and Business License and Permits Committee (BLP) Co-Chair Frank Holozubiec of LGBTQ dance club Magnitude, proposed for the space previously occupied by a Lexus car dealership on 11th Avenue between W46/W47th Street. “We had no one from the community supporting it, and we had strong opposition from two well-established block associations.”
Proprietors Sherif Mabrouk (also manager of The Eagle nightclub in Chelsea), New Jersey-based nightclub owner Sergio Polajenko and Akram Qaid (owner of Harlem’s City Fish) proposed to create “the largest gay nightclub on the east coast and the first full nightclub in New York City”. They pitched the concept to the BLP as “an inclusive, safe, and friendly night venue that showcases cutting-edge, high-energy music trends and talented DJs. Magnitude will be a unique nightclub with fun activities besides drinking and dancing, such as a tarot card reading room, small goods/leather shop, a gift shop, and will occupy what is currently a vacant space.”
But from the start, friction between the applicants, BLP members and community representatives soured negotiations. The applicants originally advocated for a 2,500-person club capacity with full rooftop use, immediately igniting concerns from BLP committee members and residents over soundproofing and fire safety egress.
After applicants returned to the board with a scaled-down plan that would reduce capacity to 750 and reduce rooftop usage to a smoking lounge, comments from owner Polajenko describing the area as an uninhabitable “ghetto” further incensed residents and block association members, who argued that the 11th Avenue stretch already housed many of the area’s residents and should be considered for further housing development. Acknowledging that the applicants had significantly adjusted their proposal and asking that the proprietors remove rooftop usage entirely, BLP committee members voted the revised application through to the full board — with stipulations that Club Magnitude’s representatives conduct a new soundproofing test inside the venue.
Comments from Tuesday’s meeting largely echoed previous public sentiment, with dozens of residents arguing that MCB4 should stop the club in its tracks. “I’m against the 4am seven day close. I’m against this proposal. I’m against adding another liquor license to our neighborhood and I kindly ask CB4 to overturn the BLP’s endorsement,” said Hell’s Kitchen resident Anita McDonagh, who added that Club Magnitude’s new soundproofing test was inadequate and not submitted for public review. “I’ve lived through Sound Factory and Pacha,” said Hell’s Kitchen resident Thomas Schall, referencing previous large-scale clubs that operated in the area, “and I’ve known the horrible effects that it’s had in the neighborhood — let’s not do this.”
Other residents brought up the inconsistency of the applicants’ demands. “We’re appalled at the chaotic approach that this group has made with the changing numbers,” said resident Richard Marans. “There’s no one on the roof, there’s 500 people on the roof now, there’s 250 people on the roof — the fact that they don’t think that they need to change the CMO, despite opinions to the contrary, and the general disorganization, lack of experience, operating nightclubs like this in New York would dictate that we’ve got chaos coming.” He added, “If these folks are allowed to continue, we ask you to please turn this down.”
Neither the owners nor their legal representative spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, but one of the group’s representatives, BOND real estate salesperson Bruno Reljic appeared at the meeting to reiterate their team’s previous defense of the plan. “I will mention the good reason why this club should be open is because when you’re passing through there, not going, I don’t wanna say it’s ghetto, but there is no action at all. I’m passing by there every day with my dog — I don’t see people. It’s pretty sketchy to walk there. So I think some businesses like this would just make this area more alive.”
The BLP members who voted against Club Magnitude’s previous proposal — co-chairs Frank Holozubiec and Burt Lazarin and member Kerry Keenan — reiterated community opposition as a reason to reverse the BLP’s approval. “There was concern from the community that they continued to refer to this neighborhood as a ‘ghetto’ and that there was no residential housing or residential opportunity for residential housing to be in this neighborhood,” said Keenan, adding that MCB4’s own ambitious housing plan would advocate for developing additional residential buildings on 11th Avenue and the far west side of Hell’s Kitchen. “I think that this operator has no understanding of their community, of our community and no interest in understanding our community.”
Several BLP members who initially voted to approve the club with stipulations expressed their regret in doing so and added that in light of continued resistance from the community, they would now vote to oppose the plan. “Boy, do I regret my vote that evening,” said BLP committee member Jesse Greenwald. “Let me apologize to the board — I may, and we may, all owe you drinks,” he said. “Having talked to my fellow community members and really getting an appreciation for the fact that these owners and providers really have no idea what they’re doing…we told them ‘you are going to have some real trouble at the full board so come prepared, come with people who are going to support you, come with a more detailed plan’ — and let me tell you, they are not here. They showed up with no one. It seems like they’ve almost abandoned the cause altogether. I’m happy to change my vote on this one, and I am sorry that we have spent so much time on it tonight.”
“First, I wanted to say that we screwed up on this one,” said BLP committee member Christine Berthet. “We were impressed with the fact that they had responded to what we asked them to do…but I mean, considering everything, and now after seeing the sound report… I want to change my vote — and not only that, but I’d like to offer a motion to flat out deny.”
The motion was almost immediately seconded and unanimously voted through by the board — and for now, it appears to be closing time for Club Magnitude.