The Grove's Close Confines Have Residents and Club Owners Battling Over Noise

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In 2010 the 17th Ward's nonprofit improvement board, Park Central Development, approved Fratello and Moore for the purchase of vacant property held by the city's Land Reutilization Authority. Two years later they moved in to their single-family home. Back then, the building behind them was still a storage facility. Fratello's father invested in an unoccupied four-family structure located directly behind the Demo's current space, renovating it into market-rate townhomes — one of which Fratello and Moore own and rent out to tenants.

"You could hear a bit of music that would bubble out of Atomic Cowboy every now and then, but in general the street was quiet and much less occupied when we arrived," recalls Fratello.

When news spread that the warehouses behind his new home were going to turn into concert venues, Fratello was actually supportive. In fact, he voted in favor of the Ready Room's progress while serving on the eleven-person Forest Park Southeast Development Committee, a body made up of stakeholders in the neighborhood, including residents, business owners and representatives of various institutions. Though the committee does not have the power to veto a project, their approval is a big leg up in the process. The Ready Room was able to obtain the required 51 percent of signatures from the neighborhood to secure its initial liquor license. And Fratello was all for continued redevelopment of the area.

"Nobody that lives behind these clubs is new to city living. Doug and I moved from Washington Avenue," he says. "None of us were expecting to hear crickets in our back yard."

But then the Ready Room actually opened. Fratello and Moore say they were surprised by the noise level but privately granted the club the benefit of the doubt. They say they thought that, given enough time, the owners would fix the problem on their own. Meanwhile, the club managers figured that, because they hadn't heard any negative feedback, everything was fine. Mid-May brought the opening of the Demo, and then everything went sideways.

The cover of the July 31, 2014, Riverfront Times. - RFT Photoillustration
RFT Photoillustration
The cover of the July 31, 2014, Riverfront Times.

"We always expected that [the warehouse] would become some kind of commercial venture as the Manchester strip grew, but it has, at least thus far, grown into something that is the loudest possible thing that it could be," says Fratello. "This noise has been, to date, pretty intolerable."

Some of the neighborhood complaints stemmed from how the Demo was able to open without a liquor license. St. Louis city excise commissioner Robert Kraiberg explains that he granted a catering license to the Demo during its transitional period while it underwent the full liquor-license application process. One of the Demo's managing partners, Brandon Cavanagh, also owns the nightclub 2720 Cherokee, and so he possesses the full license needed to cater to other venues.

"In the interest of business assistance, I allowed the liquor license that was held on Cherokee Street to cater to the Demo while this process was going on. I only do that when I sense that it is a non-controversial situation," says Kraiberg. "However, when I found there was controversy surrounding it, I stopped issuing those catering permits because I didn't want to interfere in the neighborhood consent process."

With the residents on the 4200 block of Gibson Avenue up in arms over the combined noise, Cracchiolo and Cavanagh failed to get the Forest Park Southeast Development Committee's seal of approval for the Demo's pending liquor-license application. Without either license, the Demo was forced to shutter.

"The crossover of negative emotion for the Ready Room is carrying over to the Demo, and arguably unfairly," says Cavanagh. "It's live music but on a very different scale."

At the same time that Cavanagh and Cracchiolo were going door to door asking for residents' signatures to get the Demo's liquor license approved, a protest petition was also circulating around the neighborhood, asking that residents actively oppose it. It also asks the city to address the lack of parking and the noise levels. (Parking solutions have been in the works since early 2014, and Goedeker says parking lots and resident-only parking permits are on their way.) If it is successful, the excise commissioner will have to call a hearing to mediate the situation. On top of that, an additional protest petition has started against the Ready Room.

"As soon as we have signatures and we're able to collate everything, that hearing will be public so that I can pay attention to the neighborhood consent process, hear testimony and hopefully forge something that will work," says Kraiberg. "I can't please all the people all the time, but I try. And if it doesn't work, the neighborhood will be the ultimate decision-maker."

Cracchiolo and Cavanagh have attempted to make amends. At the request of Park Central Development and with the assistance from their property managers, a professional acoustician performed costly tests on the Ready Room and the Demo. According to the reports, the results of which were shared with Riverfront Times, both venues were well within the legal limit of 86 decibels at 50 feet from the property, with levels maxing out at about 70 decibels. Additionally, Cracchiolo and Cavanagh have insulated the back walls of each venue. Cavanagh says soundproofing of the Demo's ceiling will be completed this week.

"I think it's important to point out that, while we're under the neighborhood ordinance, it's really about going beyond that," says Cracchiolo. "This isn't about getting the place legal so that it can open. It's about being a good neighbor. It's about wanting to coexist peacefully in the neighborhood."

But as it is, going above and beyond the call of duty may prove logistically impossible. With the Demo closed, funds are severely limited, and they've had to lay off four employees.

"My main focus throughout this process has been on obtaining signatures and getting the Demo back open so I can get my people back to work," says Cavanagh. "I think in all of this, that's really the element that gets lost. People lose sight of what's really important. I love being a part of the music scene and working to further the arts and the community at large, but underneath it all are very real people with very real families."

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