Two steps back

On June 2, as he's done every June since 1997, nationally recognized dance-party promoter Jeffrey Sanker will rent a Walt Disney World theme park for his after-hours "One Mighty Party" and draw thousands of Gay Days revelers at $75-$80 a head.

This year, according to a Thursday, March 22, post on Sanker's official website, Sanker planned a special bonus. After "One Mighty Party V" shut down at 2 a.m. at Disney-MGM Studios, partygoers could then head over to Epcot, where Sanker promised to continue the music, lights and dancing (dare we say rave?) from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Contacted that day, Sanker's Los Angeles-based company, JS Enterprises, said more information on the event would soon be available. Meanwhile, an Epcot Special Events representative said she knew nothing about it.

Even so, local rumor insisted that if the Epcot event was a success, Disney was giving thought to hosting its own round of all-night parties to capitalize on the city of Orlando's and Orange County's tight restrictions on late-night entertainment.

By the next morning, however, the after-party had disappeared from Sanker's website.

Disney's explanation? "The bottom line," says Mouse spokesman Bill Warren, "is that event is not booked and is not going to take place on our property. We're sticking with the community philosophy of no late-night raves or parties." ("One Mighty Party V" will go on; late-night in these parts thankfully refers only to those shindigs that kick off after 2 a.m.)

So, did Sanker announce the event too early, or did the famously image-conscious Disney Co. back out once media inquiries made it clear they were holding onto a hot potato?

A follow-up call to JS Enterprises revealed that Sanker, who did not return phone calls personally, still plans a Gay Day after-hours fiesta, though the exact location was not disclosed. "We are actually coming down to the final details of what we're doing," a representative said, adding that more information would be available soon on the web.

But if the party doesn't happen at Disney, where will it go? All of the area's other dance clubs can't offer late-night entertainment, thanks to the same "community philosophy" that Disney cites.

The philosophy took shape in 1997, when Mayor Glenda Hood cracked down on the city's burgeoning rave scene. She convened a task force, which suggested shutting clubs down by 4 a.m. and halting alcohol sales by 3 a.m. Not good enough, Hood declared. She and the City Council voted instead to stop alcohol sales at 2 a.m., and close clubs and bars by 3 a.m.

Downtown club owners protested, to no avail, and those restrictions, along with the openings of Disney's Pleasure Island and Universal Orlando's CityWalk, began draining the life out of downtown. Club owners simply couldn't compete. (Soon after the city ordinance took effect, a previous downtown host for late-night Gays Days events -- the Club at Firestone -- even begged to be exempted from the new crackdown for just that one night. The club hoped to retain the clientele that Sanker is now drawing to Disney. No dice, said the city.)

Tabu owner Mark Nejame reiterated his case in favor of later operating hours to Hood and Police Chief Jerry Demmings just last month in a closed-door meeting. He wants to push closing times back 30 minutes on Fridays and Saturdays and allow liquor sales on those nights until 3 a.m., with the clubs closing at 3:30 a.m.

Again, no luck. "It was a waste of time," Nejame says.

Questions for both Hood and Demmings were routed to city spokeswoman Susan Blexrud. "Basically," she says, "the city has no compelling reason to change the ordinance right now."

Demmings told Nejame his proposal would cost the OPD an extra $125,000 a year, which Nejame offered to pay out-of-pocket. Moreover, he argued, if the clubs that stay open that extra hour are required to hire off-duty cops, it actually would increase the OPD's presence downtown without forcing taxpayers to foot the bill.

Once patrons leave the club, Blexrud counters, the extra patrols don't help. Besides, she adds, "We need to think about noise and cleaning up the city. The later we stay open, the less time we have for our street teams."

The meeting ended with all sides promising to get back together soon, but no meeting has been scheduled.

In February, the county threw its hat into the anti-rave ring. Orange County Chairman Rich Crotty pushed through two measures. The first, a 60-day moratorium on "places of late-night entertainment," sought to keep the proposed Venus & Mars Deluxe club in East Orange County from opening. The second, a law banning bottle clubs, was aimed squarely at Aura, the proposed reincarnation of Cyberzone.

While the moratorium itself won't keep Mike Zaccardo from opening Venus & Mars, the legal fight may have run him out of business. According to Zaccardo's attorney, Irby Pugh, Zaccardo lost his $50,000-a-month lease in the anti-rave hubbub.

"He's kind of run out of money," Pugh says. But if Zaccardo can put the lease back together and clear permitting hurdles -- the county, says Pugh, is "still dicking him around" -- the club may yet open.

The weekend following the bottle-club ban, Cyberzone reopened for two nights; since then, haunted by code problems, it has remained closed. And last week, the Orange County Nuisance Abatement Board fined the owner $7,500 for not living up to his end of the bargain in preventing drug use at the complex.

The county, meanwhile, is drafting its permanent late-night entertainment ordinance. But don't expect it to feature the word "dance" prominently: Assistant county attorney George Dorsett concedes the county government is still a bit "gun-shy" about that word. In essence, an early draft of the ordinance suggests that clubs that serve alcohol would be required to have security guards and paramedics on site; meanwhile, nonalcoholic clubs would have to close by 2 a.m.

"It's nothing like I thought," Pugh says. Though the county solicited his advice in drafting the ordinance, he says, it ignored his recommendations.

He asked the county to look to Miami Beach, which allows late-night clubs but forces them into special districts through zoning. "They didn't take the regulations approach," Pugh says. "They took the prohibition approach. I think that's a mistake. We need to be mature."

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