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Owner of Spire says nightclub was following coronavirus occupancy rules

Mayor Turner puts bars on notice

HOUSTON – The owner of a nightclub shuttered by the Houston Fire Department over the weekend said Monday the ordeal could have been prevented had he been allowed to hire increased off-duty police officers for security.

Zach Truesdell, owner of Spire Nightclub, said he had hired 14 Harris County sheriff’s deputies to work Saturday night.

“Our Harris County officers, their permit had been pulled to work our event for the weekend,” Truesdell said. “All this would have been prevented if we would have had our Harris County sheriffs working with us that night.”

Authorities evacuated the club Sunday morning, citing a “life-safety concern” described as going “beyond the issue with COVID.”

At about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, officers were dispatched to the nightclub at 1720 Main St. in downtown Houston, in reference to reports of a large gathering. On arrival, units observed an estimated 200 people waiting in line outside the club. In addition to the crowding outside, the club had exceeded its capacity inside, Houston police said.

Truesdell said the club exceeded capacity after patrons outside rushed an unattended back door.

The club was hosting an event dubbed the “All Black Affair” on Saturday night, according the club’s website. An event poster listed Larry Morrow, Trey Songz, Kenny Burns and Fabolous as some of the notable personalities expected to appear at the event. Officers said some event-goers traveled from San Antonio and New Orleans to attend.

“When a couple of the artists showed up, people behind them, their entourages, and just people in the street bombarded the doors and the fire marshal was in the office with us,” Truesdell said.

Truesdell said the fire marshal was present to make sure the club did not exceed its allotted occupancy. The building is allowed a maximum capacity of 1,200 people, Truesdell said. Under Governor Abbott’s Executive Order GA-32, the club is permitted to be open at 50% of its max capacity -- 600 patrons. Truesdell added that after the crowd rushed a backdoor, club security wasn’t able to keep track of the number of people inside the building.

He said at that point the fire marshal made the decision to close the club for the night.

“She wasn’t comfortable with the amount of people that had bombarded the door and came in,” Truesdell said. “We didn’t have a proper count of it, exactly, cause when she got there we had a proper count. Our count was in line with what it needed to be when she was there. We would have never gotten bombarded if we would have had Harris County sheriffs working the night.”

To stop the crowd, Truesdell said, security placed a barricade at the door. That violated fire code, as it limited the number of safe exits available in the event of an emergency.

“It didn’t provide a safe exit for people to exit the club,” Truesdell said. “That’s why we got shut down.”

Truesdell said the club was cited for the violation.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said Monday in a prepared statement it was, “investigating the events which took place at Club Spire this weekend. If the investigation finds evidence of a violation, the agency could assess a penalty as specified in GA-32. In the meantime, we will continue to work with our local partners in the city of Houston and Harris County to ensure the safety of all residents and visitors.”

Spire was previously suspended for violations of the Governor’s executive order, according to the agency:

  • First suspension -- July 1-9, 2020
  • Second suspension -- Oct. 20-23, 2020

Enforcement of occupancy restrictions has remained a tense topic since they were implemented, with some questioning whether authorities are enforcing the rules.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday he isn’t focused solely on shutting down an establishment, but would move to do so if it encouraged events that potentially could result in the spread of COVID-19.

Turner added the city would be watching area establishments more closely.

“I want to let people know, different clubs and bars, Washington Avenue -- you’re on notice,” Turner said. “I’m telling you ahead of time.”

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.