Hearing set this week on Sunset Lounge liquor license

WARREN – With a hearing scheduled for this week on whether to renew the liquor license for the Sunset Lounge, city officials are satisfied that its owner has honored the terms that allowed the bar to close without having to go to court.

The city on Jan. 3 announced it came to an agreement with Joseph E. Sankey Jr. that he would close Sunset Lounge, 480 E. Market St.; surrender the D-2 liquor permit to the Division of Liquor Control; relinquish his food service operation license; remove all signage within five days; and terminate within seven days the building lease of Dream Team Promotions LLC.

The actions were prompted by the shooting death of city man Cory Blackwell, 25, at the bar on New Year’s Day and were decided on in lieu of the city going to court to close the bar for up to a year on a nuisance claim.

The death was the last in a string of grievances the city had with the lounge dating back to May 2012.

Despite the time-specific requirements, the agreement document provided to the Tribune Chronicle did not have a date that indicated when it was signed by city Law Director Greg Hicks, Sankey and Sankey’s attorney Dennis DiMartino.

When questioned whether a dated copy of the agreement exists, the city’s law department responded in an email: “You currently have all the documents we have and the copies are accurate.”

“The agreement did not require him (Sankey) to provide documents showing the termination of the lease,” Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said recently.

“We have eliminated the nuisance. Since the bar is closed, the lease agreement with Dream Team Productions ended,” he said.

Warren’s Deputy Health Director Bob Pinti said the food license was turned over to his office on the same day the agreement was signed.

Since that time, the signage has been removed, equipment taken from the facility, and it has been closed. Sankey has a “For Sale” sign in the window with a contact number on it.

For his part, Sankey has said that if he cannot sell the building, he will attempt to reopen it as a fine dining restaurant.

Matt Mullins, a spokesman with the Ohio Department of Commerce Liquor Control office, said Sankey on Jan. 2 requested and was given temporary closing authority until July 1.

“A temporary closing authority allows a bar to be closed for an extended period of time,” Mullins said. “The permit holder is allowed to request the license to be reinstated, but a reinspection must be done.”

Sankey is set to appear at a liquor license renewal hearing at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, when the city will attempt the show the license should not be renewed based on numerous incidents in and around the bar that occurred in 2012.

The renewal hearing originally was scheduled to take place in October, but was delayed at the request of the city. It was then scheduled to take place on Dec. 11, but was delayed at the request of Sankey’s representatives.

Dream Team Promotions is headed by LaShawn Ziegler, a convicted felon with a history of problems over various bars he was associated with, including Benji Browns and 77 Soul. Both of those bars were repeatedly investigated due to numerous police calls and investigations.

There have been no arrests in Blackwell’s death.