Norfolk stepping up compliance visits at downtown bars and nightclubs following Granby Street shooting

Norfolk stepping up compliance visits at downtown bars and nightclubs following Granby Street shooting

The city of Norfolk is ramping up compliance visits to downtown bars and nightclubs, and will aim to appropriate funding to staff a compliance unit and upgrade surveillance in parking garages, in response to the most recent Granby Street shooting.

“We are prepared to do everything necessary to maintain law and order downtown, whether it be at 2 o’clock in the afternoon or 2 o’clock in the morning,” Norfolk City Manager Chip Filer said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

Filer outlined five immediate actions the city is taking “to curb disorder and violence” in the downtown entertainment district. The actions include:

  • Increasing police patrols Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

  • Conducting random visits to nightclubs to check for code violations for the next 90 days.

  • Reviewing business licenses and taxes to determine if any establishments are operating without a license or have not paid taxes.

  • Adding money in the budget to start a nine-person Business Compliance Unit.

  • Replacing outdated surveillance cameras in all public parking garages in downtown.

The city began implementing some solutions last week, beginning with increasing police presence along Granby Street on March 24 and fixing salvageable cameras in public parking garages after learning that the majority of the cameras do not work.

Two people were killed and three others were injured in the shooting outside Chicho’s Pizza Backstage on Granby Street shortly before 2 a.m. March 19. Sierra Jenkins was an education reporter for The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press and grew up in Norfolk. Devon M. Harris was a semi-pro football player from Portsmouth. Police have not named any suspects or made any arrests in the shooting.

The city’s announcement came after residents and business owners voiced concerns about the shooting and violence in downtown Norfolk. At last week’s City Council meeting, some business owners questioned whether Chicho’s had violated its conditional use permit.

Charles Kirtland, the general manager of Gershwins, said Chicho’s is “no friend to the downtown Norfolk area.”

“They are the host of all these problems,” Kirtland said. “Blood now runs through the 300 block of Granby Street because of this business.”

Kirtland accused the business of violating its conditional use permit by not enforcing security procedures, overpopulating the space, overserving patrons and having employees drinking while on the job.

Filer said that while the investigation into the shooting and any potential conditional use permit violations is ongoing, he is not aware of any compliance violations at Chicho’s or surrounding businesses.

“At this point I do not have any information that says there were any violations that were found,” Filer said. “In general it is fair to say that overserving and overcrowding is an issue that we are aware of with some of the establishments on Granby Street, and we are going to have to take some action on that.”

The Pilot obtained a copy of Chicho’s conditional use permit (CUP), which was approved by the city attorney Aug. 27, 2019. According to the permit, Chicho’s must have one security guard per 50 guests on the property when the occupancy exceeds 200 people. The establishment is also required to have a certified security supervisor on the premises each Friday and Saturday night after 8 p.m.

Chicho’s manager Rory Schindel previously told The Pilot bartenders announced last call for drinks around 1:30 a.m. the night of the shooting. Schindel estimated about 180 people were inside at the time. Customers were starting to leave when he heard an argument outside and then gunfire.

Leila Vann, a downtown resident and the president of the Downtown Norfolk Civic League, said she is appreciative of the city and Norfolk Police Department’s swift action regarding violence downtown.

“I think we have been complaining about safety for a while. Safety has been the residents’ concern for the last two years,” Vann said.

Vann previously spoke in favor of emergency action proposed by council member Courtney Doyle, which included requiring all downtown businesses to close by midnight and banning weapons from downtown bars and restaurants.

She said the civic league would have liked a Business Compliance Unit in place already.

“But now that they are bringing the police in and people are going into businesses spot checking, it should be better,” Vann said.

Filer said the city set the five-step action plan in motion as an immediate solution, explaining that other solutions proposed by council members would take more time.

Filer is currently working to include funding in this year’s budget to staff a Business Compliance Unit, which he estimated will cost $450,000. The unit would consist of full-time employees from across city departments.

“The goal of the compliance unit is not to take a hammer to every establishment, beat them into submission and/or revoke their CUP. Really the goal of the compliance unit is structured much like some outreach efforts in larger cities that have active offices of nightlife,” Filer said.

Filer said the compliance unit is a “necessary step towards our process of changing the brand, culture and image of downtown Norfolk.”

“The old image was one of a regulatory nature where we established clear laws and clear requirements and then ran around making sure everyone was compliant,” Filer said. “The business unit is a little bit different. It is more holistic, and it really is a partnership with businesses. It is equal parts education and enforcement.”

Filer said the immediate actions should provide a sense of security and reaffirm the city’s commitment to maintaining downtown Norfolk as an entertainment location.

According to Filer, the city’s concerns extend beyond shootings. They also include overcrowding, overserving of alcohol, loitering in public right-of-ways long after bars have closed, and weapons being brought into establishments.

“Those things might all be precursors to violent events. Some of the ways to control the violent events that make the headlines is to get our hands around some of these smaller areas of concern as well,” Filer said.

The key to this action plan, Filer said, is that establishments embrace these changes.

The city will hold a meeting next week with city staff and all establishment owners in downtown Norfolk to discuss potential additional actions that may include requiring enhanced security measures as part of the conditional use permit process, establishing a governing body to manage the entertainment district, and altering the permitted occupancy of establishments according to time and conditions.

While CUP requirements may change, the process for permit revocation will not, Filer said.

Caitlyn Burchett,