Omaha city leaders gave the Reign Lounge five months to address neighbors’ complaints about noise, parking, trash, fights and gunfire.
But little has changed since May, residents said, so the City Council has scheduled a public hearing Tuesday to discuss Reign Lounge’s liquor license. The council will vote on whether to require the bar’s owner, James Overton, to reapply for a license.
The Florence-area bar also owed the city up to $4,000 in unpaid restaurant taxes as recently as last week, the city estimates. The owner paid off much of that amount on Friday, officials said. The council recently revised its rules to allow the city to factor in delinquent payment of the tax when making recommendations regarding liquor licenses.
Tuesday will mark the second time in two months that the city has held this kind of hearing for a bar facing complaints from neighbors.
The city’s last hearing, in September, resulted in the council recommending that Club Karma start over and fill out a new liquor license application. The club in downtown Omaha has since closed and is looking for a new spot.
Troubled clubs that have to reapply for a liquor license often close for good because they must explain their infractions to both the city and the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission.
The City Attorney’s Office says Reign Lounge has required hundreds of hours of police officers’ time responding to calls and complaints, which takes them away from more pressing duties. The police presence near the bar, south of Interstate 680 in Florence, spiked after the 2018 shooting death of Army Sgt. Kyle LeFlore outside.
On Sept. 19, an early morning fight between bar patrons and security spilled across 30th Street, and shots were fired, according to police reports. Officers found blood and shell casings, but a victim wasn’t found.
Councilman Pete Festersen, who represents Florence, cast the lone “no” vote in May when the council gave Overton more time to improve security near the bar. He said then that he didn’t think the council needed more time to decide.
Assistant City Attorney Ryan Wiesen, in a recent letter to the council, said police had filed at least four tavern reports since the May vote. Tavern reports are allegations of wrongdoing forwarded to the liquor commission.
Festersen said he supports requiring Overton to start over with Reign’s liquor license. Florence business owners and residents have seen little or no improvement, he said.
Overton has argued that he is surrounded by white neighbors who don’t like having a black-owned bar catering to young black patrons in Florence.
“They look at us as another urban hip-hop bar with a bunch of troublemakers, and that’s not what we’re about,” Overton told The World-Herald in May.
He did not respond to calls seeking comment Friday.
Neighbors have argued that their opposition has nothing to do with race. They say they’re frustrated with patrons’ behavior and the owner’s lack of responsiveness to problems.
Overton had pledged to put up fencing to keep people and cars off neighboring properties but instead used stakes with rope, officials say.
The formal complaints that triggered the new hearing include letters from neighbors such as Nicholas Maslowsky, whose home is near the bar.
He wrote the city saying he had to move his bed into his living room so he could sleep in his own house because of the loud music and arguments he can hear from his bedroom.
“I do not feel safe to go outside my own home at night,” he wrote.
A member of the Florence neighborhood patrol described seeing people urinate in public and drive erratically, including jumping curbs. Three members of the Wyman Heights Neighborhood Association asked the city to “immediately terminate” Reign Lounge’s liquor license.
Overton and his neighbors are likely speak during the public hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Legislative Chambers of the City-County Building, 1819 Farnam St.
Council President Chris Jerram, who told Overton in May that he better get serious about addressing neighbors’ concerns or risk losing his license, said this feels like “Groundhog Day.”
“I see nothing at this point that shows me the license should continue under the present ownership,” Jerram said.