Death By Nuisance

The killing of three people at KISS Ultra Lounge raises a question: how much death does it take to shut a place down as a nuisance property?

Anyone suggesting that violent crime has receded in Atlanta can safely be called a liar after this weekend. At best, we can say that it is growing more slowly. This has been a bad week, even accounting for a bad year.

Three people were killed in the parking lot of the KISS Ultra Lounge on Whitehall Street early Sunday morning, one in a wheelchair. These were the 102nd, 103rd and 104th homicide victims in the city this year. We’re 58 percent above pace from 2019 — the last “normal” year for crime — and about 8 percent above 2020.

I am continually amazed that anyone would actually go to a sketchy “hookah bar” which in practice is a borderline strip club, but that might be social class talking. This is outside of my lived experience. My question this morning is whether a triple homicide is enough for the city to do something significant, and close the place down as a nuisance property.

In November 2019, the license review board presented a “due cause” package to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, recommending that KISS Ultra Lounge lose its liquor license for two violations of after-hours liquor sales. Bottoms did not act on that recommendation. An audit of the city’s moribund license review practices in April noted her failure to act.

A year ago almost to the day, a security guard shot a man dead and wounded another during an attempted carjacking in the parking lot of KISS Ultra Lounge.

KISS Ultra Lounge is licensed as a pizza place that serves liquor. On paper, it’s supposed to make at least 50 percent of its revenue from sales of food. The business was fined for failing to renew its license in September, and closed for five days.

I keep a short file of 911 calls — a sampler of the larger set — to refer to when I want to look at a property. Between February 26 and April 25 this year, 39 calls originated at KISS Ultra Lounge. More revealing, perhaps, are the 157 calls generated by the Wing Stop next door. The two properties share the parking lot.

The owner of the Wing Stop apparently got into an argument with the owner of KISS Ultra Lounge and shot him in the ass in the parking lot on March 7. The case is pending.

Some spicy-ass wings at that joint, one imagines.

Atlanta passed enhanced nuisance property legislation in May, allowing the city to declare properties contributing to the commission of violent conduct or crime a public nuisance. Under the new code, Atlanta will provide notice of documented reports of violent conduct or crime occurring on the property to the owner, and if the owner does not abate the nuisance the city will take action and the municipal court may assess the owner for costs. The legislation also allows Atlanta to suspend or revoke a business’ alcohol license for violations of the new nuisance code.

Dorthey Hurst, a board member of the city’s new anti-violence initiative, says KISS Ultra Lounge probably didn’t meet the statutory definition of nuisance property before this shooting, but it almost certainly does now. She said she expects the demand letter to go out.

I’ve asked if the city plans to begin nuisance enforcement here, but haven’t yet received a response.

Coordinating a response to incidents like this is the job the city wants to give to its new antiviolence office. The city floated a job posting for a director of violence prevention last week.

They’re looking for a director who “is an expert in violence reduction programs and grant management who uses the latest research and best practices with an intentional focus on reduction, prevention and intervention services to violence impacted populations. The ideal candidate will be entrepreneurial, a trust builder, collaborator, effective communicator, and detail-oriented with strong follow through. The position requires a candidate with community credibility, political tack, and professional integrity.”

It’s a weird, interesting job that I would have considered myself if I weren’t writing for you. The amount of money they would have to pay me to work for the government again, however, would shock the conscience. Whoever they get isn’t going to be cheap and shouldn’t be. You’re looking for a cross between a cop and a social worker with academic credentials and a name people like me will recognize.

That’s a short list.