The City of Denver insists that it hasn't unfairly accused Onyx Ultra Lounge, a hip-hop and dance club at 1080 14th Street, where two people were shot early on October 14, of spawning violence. Still, Denver City Council moved the date of the club's lease expiration to December 31, two years early, during the legislative body's September 9 meeting.
When asked if the latest incident could result in the club's expulsion even sooner, Ryan Luby, public information officer for the Denver City Attorney's Office, says investigators are still "trying to sort out what transpired" and will have a better idea if further actions are necessary in the days to come.
Brian Kitts, a spokesperson for Denver Arts & Venues, says the impending ouster of Onyx, which is on the ground floor of the Denver Performing Arts Complex parking garage, and Backstage Coffee, at 1000 14th Street, which is due for eviction today, October 16, weren't coordinated to clear space in the city-owned building for new operations that officials would prefer. The future vacancies "aren't related, and what happens with these spaces both long-term and short-term is to be decided," he says.
But Kitts sees the October 14 shooting as "one more in a string of incidents that shows that [Onyx] may not be the right business for that location."
The first official word of the shooting came via this message from Denver Police Department Twitter account, shared at around 3:40 a.m. on the 14th: "DPD is on scene in the 1000 Blk of 14th St on a shooting. 2 parties transported for non-life threatening injuries. The investigation is still active and ongoing."
The department subsequently revealed that the injured parties were Onyx security guards. Two suspects are said to have opened fire at the workers from a vehicle before speeding away. One victim was shot in the foot, while the other took a bullet in the arm. No descriptions of the suspects have been released at this writing, but their ride is said to have been a white SUV.
Violence near the DCPA has been a focus of attention since at least May 2018, when 23-year-old Caleb Schroeder was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder over a death in the center's parking garage. At the September 9 meeting of city council, a police commander estimated that DPD had received 71 calls related to alleged crimes near the complex since the beginning of 2019, including three for fighting at the club. Fifty calls came after 10 p.m., when businesses other than Onyx have already closed.
This timing is a concern for Kitts "whether it's circumstantial or not." But councilmember Candi CdeBaca isn't convinced that the incidents can all be pinned on Onyx, and hinted at the September council meeting that authorities may have been profiling the club because its owners and many of its customers are people of color. Such charges have been made in the past regarding Denver hip-hop clubs, including Cold Crush in RiNo, which was declared a public nuisance and shut down in 2016 after a number of violent episodes in the vicinity, including the murder of rapper BossMan Goodie.
Council voted 12-1 to shorten Onyx's lease, with CdeBaca being the sole dissenter. After the shooting, Lisa Calderón, CdeBaca's chief of staff, told Westword the councilmember had no further comment because she hadn't received more information about the shootings.
Backstage Coffee hasn't been linked to any crimes, and Kitts describes the shop as "an important part of the arts complex," but adds that the city's hand was forced. The owners posted on Facebook that they had gotten the boot "for failing to give them sales reports, something they had not asked for in the 3 years since they took over the day to day operation of the Denver Performing Arts Complex." But Luby, the city attorney's office PIO, stressed that "Backstage is in arrears on rent — roughly $70,000," and provided Westword with documentation in support of this claim.
The shuttering of the coffee operation and the impending departure of Onyx, either by year's end or possibly sooner, "aren't ideal," Kitts stresses. "As any landlord knows, it's easier to keep your current tenants than it is to find and replace them. In the short term, we're looking at another type of coffee shop, and then we'll look at what happens next. But both cases, I think, are pretty cut and dried."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.