08/23/07 — Hispanic nightclub gets beer license, then loses it

View Archive

Hispanic nightclub gets beer license, then loses it

By Lee Williams
Published in News on August 23, 2007 1:46 PM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- Club 55 El Abuelo near Seven Springs had a beer permit for just two days.

But the permit, which allows the sale of beer on and off premises, was revoked by the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

The club is located on N.C. 55, about a half-mile from the Lenoir-Wayne county line.

Lenoir County ABC Director Mike Herring said Lenoir County Sheriff's Maj. Christopher Hill signed off on the permit as the approving authority for the application and the location, so a temporary beer permit was issued to the owner, Randy Mills, 49, of Grantham, on Aug. 10.

But when officials realized there was opposition from area residents, the permit was rescinded, Herring said.

An investigation was opened by the state Alcohol Law Enforcement Division after ABC officials learned residents opposed the sale of alcohol in the nightclub and planned to file a petition to stop it. The club would be capable of holding more than 800 people, records show.

Opponents say the club will have an adverse effect on the largely rural community.

The 15,000-square-foot club, which sits on a 28.725-acre tract of land, is planned to double as an amusement center, with a go-cart track, soccer fields and video game room.

Mills purchased the land located on Jerusalem Church Road and N.C. 55 West from the Robert A. Mewborn Trust for $10,000 an acre, according to Lenoir County tax officials.

Construction of the club is still under way. However, Lenoir County planning officials say work, which began last fall, should be complete in time for the club's proposed grand opening date of Aug. 31.

Gary O'Neal, Lenoir's director of planning and inspections, said earlier this month that Mills had asked for a final inspection, and that barring any unforeseen circumstances, it probably would meet county standards.

Among the final touches needed, Mills was to have insulated water lines in the attic, posted handicapped accessible signs in the parking lot, bathrooms and put fencing to shield the metal building from the road, O'Neal said.

The club was approved by the Lenoir County Planning Board in March 2006 despite objections raised by Mewborn, one of the former property owners, and the Rev. Anthony Davis of Jerusalem Free Will Baptist Church, which is located about a half-mile away.

Mewborn told the board he had no objection to the soccer field, go-cart track and other recreational items geared to children, but that he had a problem with the sale of alcohol.

"The sale of alcohol never was mentioned," Mewborn told the board.

Mewborn said if he and his sisters had known about the alcohol sales, they would not have sold the land to Mills.

Davis also objected to alcohol being sold at the club.

He said his church had recently completed a $600,000 renovation, and he fears the club will detract from the community.

The measure was approved and did not have to go before the Lenoir County Commission for final approval, Lenoir County Commissioner Claude Stroud said.

"We don't have any control over it," Stroud said.

Stroud said, however, that he doesn't support the planned club.

"It's going to be a major catastrophe," Stroud added.

Nearby residents worry the club will bring increased traffic and crime to the community.

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said he is concerned the club located just outside the Wayne County line will become a "haven" for gangs.

"We've had problems with different gangs, and we know MS-13 and Sur-13 don't like each other," Winders said.

O'Neal said he has not received any negative feedback about the club, and he added he was impressed with the construction project thus far.

He said the club has four pool tables, several air hockey machines, two Plasma TVs, a dance floor with a stage and the go-cart track with fencing, which will hold about 15 to 20 go-carts.

But that's not all.

Mills also installed a metal detector like one might expect to find at the Wayne County Courthouse. Mills also has two wands to sweep visitors for weapons before entering the club.

Mills, a Wayne County resident, also hired bodyguards to patrol the club, and he installed a camera system to monitor the parking lot.

"He spent a whole lot of money on this place," O'Neal said. "It's real nice. It's a first-class place."

O'Neal said Mills valued the building at $450,000.

A host of entertainment is planned to help kick off opening night. According to the club's flier, opening night will feature three Latin bands. A red Ford Windstar van also will be given away.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officials are bracing themselves for increased traffic to the community. Winders said he plans to adopt a mutual aid agreement with Lenoir County Sheriff Billy Smith to address any increase in emergency calls to the area. They also plan to have license checkpoints in the area to deter drinking and driving.

Mills was reached on his cell phone. However, he declined to comment on Club 55 El Abuelo, which means "The Godfather" in Spanish.