City warns Mario's could lose license pending more violations

tstevens@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 8, 2014 

The Columbus Consolidated Government has sent a warning to Mario's Restaurant — any more violations and the Broadway business could lose its license.

The letter, sent Tuesday by the Office of the City Attorney and obtained by the Ledger-Enquirer, came days after Mayor Teresa Tomlinson's affirmation that the business is being investigated.

That investigation was sparked by the Dec. 22 death of Phenix City resident Arthur J. Holt Jr.

Holt was fatally shot in the Hardaway Parking Garage at 919 Broadway after two groups began fighting. Sometime after the argument began, 21-year-old Marquis Tirese Shaw allegedly shot Holt at least four times before injuring another victim.

Holt was found dead between two cars.

According to court testimony and Tomlinson, the two groups were at Mario's prior to the shooting.

The City Attorney's letter cites two instances of overcrowding at the business — one, which allegedly occurred on Nov. 10 after the Fountain City Classic, and another on Dec. 21, just before the Holt fatal shooting.

"On this occasion, a Club Mario patron was shot in a nearby parking lot as a result of an 'altercation that occurred inside the 1010 Broadway around 2:15 (a.m.)'," City Attorney Clifton C. Fay wrote.

Fay further warns the business that activities at Mario's are being monitored by Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren, Fire Department Chief Jeff Meyer and Finance Director Pam Hodge.

"Please govern yourself accordingly," Fay concludes.

George and Sylvia Saad, who own Mario's along with their son, said the city's allegations are "fabrications." They said they intend to fight the city's decision to monitor the business, potentially with a lawsuit.

"(Holt's death) happened near us. It does not mean we had something to do with it," George Saad said. "I've got the police report and nothing in it says something happened on our side. Somebody is against us."

Sylvia pointed out that the Saads have owned various businesses downtown for 34 years, and have been taking steps to eliminate overcrowding issues. They recently made the decision to close the club portion of Mario's operation after their employees reportedly failed to maintain a proper door count.

The restaurant is still open for lunch and dinner.

Sylvia also said she has repeatedly attempted to contact Tomlinson since Holt's death. She said no calls have been returned.

"We have obligations. We have loans to pay. We have employees that work with us and have to support our families," Sylvia said. "This is getting to be way too much."

Tomlinson, when asked about the notice, said no one in city government wants to shut down businesses. However, the city has a responsibility to maintain a safe environment for citizens.

"I know it’s tough sometimes, especially if you’re an off-site owner or an investor, but the fact is you’re responsible for what goes on there and have the most immediate influence over where it continues or whether it stops," she said. "I hope they do get control of the businesses and are able to be very successful, profitable and safe. That’s our objective."

The mayor expects to have meetings with the owners of both Mario's and Club Sky, to explain the city’s concerns and work out a way for them to remain in business, safely.

"That’s what I like about this process. The city gives clear notice that they’re concerned and that they do have recourse in these types of circumstances," Tomlinson said. "That usually does get the immediate attention of the owners and then they come in and we’re able to talk these things through."

A number of Columbus bars and nightclubs have been investigated or shut down following violent acts at or near the establishment. Club Majestic was closed following the New Year's Day fatal shooting of Charles Foster Jr. The Hole was also shut down and then demolished.

Staff writer Mike Owen contributed to this report.

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