March 07, 2012 | 11:14 AMMikhail Tassi is sitting at his own bar, the South Shore Tiki Lounge in Kihei, talking about what has become the hottest conversation topic in town. "I ran the numbers, and about 40 percent of our nightly revenue comes after 10pm," he said.
It's a significant percentage. Tiki Lounge is a popular bar and restaurant that features live music at sunset and dancing to DJs every night. It's just one of nine establishments that hold liquor licenses at the Kihei Kalama Village (KKV), a complex of bars, restaurants and shops colloquially known as the Barmuda Triangle.
But the days of the Triangle being one of the premier nightclub destinations on the island may be rapidly coming to a close. On March 14, the Maui County Liquor Commission will hold a public hearing on whether it should prohibit all nightly entertainment past 10pm in the Triangle.
This wouldn't be a mere supplemental restriction added to liquor licenses based in the Triangle–the Liquor Commission is considering writing the restriction into the actual county liquor laws.
The new restriction appears on page 36 of the 82-page package of new liquor rule language the Liquor Commission is considering. Much of that language deals with regulations governing things like "condotels" (condo-like vacation rentals), which didn't really exist a decade ago.
"Most of it is statutory," said LC Director Franklyn Silva of the proposed language. "We're just now catching up and putting it in the rules."
The Triangle portion is part of Section 08-101-27 dealing with various permits licensees would need if they want to have trade shows, outside warehousing, etc. If this passes, the rule governing dance permits would now read as follows:
"Area(s) for music, entertainment, and dancing[;] , provided that no food, beverages, or empty service containers shall be allowed on the approved areas for dancing; and provided further that all music, dancing, and entertainment shall cease not later than 10 p.m. for licensees located in the Kihei Kalama Village complex identified by TMK No. (2) 3-9- 003-007-0000;"
Silva said this is happening because of complaints from people who live around the Triangle. "We've had lots of complaints from the surrounding neighbors," said Silva. "The police complained, too, about assaults in the parking lot."
On Mar. 2, I emailed Lt. Wayne Ibarra, the Maui Police Department's spokesman, asking for more details on the MPD's concerns over the Triangle. That day he forwarded my request for comment to Captain Tivoli Faaumu, the Kihei Commander, but I didn't received a response by press time.
According to LC Chief Enforcement Officer Bill Pacheco, the department has received nine noise complaints from nearby residents against licensees at the Triangle since July 2010 (older complaints, Pacheco explained, were purged for housekeeping reasons). Pacheco added that no citations resulted from the complaints, though he said he couldn't say where exactly the complaints came from.
"It's a very tight, geographically small area," Pacheco said. "Any one night, there's always more than one licensee going off at any time. There are many factors when you measure sound–we don't want to measure [background] traffic and attribute it to the licensee. Because of that, we're not able to pinpoint any one licensee. Sometimes it's even hard for the complaintant to pinpoint where the noise is coming from. We can't measure it [the noise]. So we have to find other ways to address it."
Silva also said that the commission may or may not make a final decision on the Triangle at the March 14 hearing. However, if they do vote for the 10pm restriction, it wouldn't become county law unless approved by Mayor Alan Arakawa.
And Arakawa hasn't been shy about saying that he sides with the LC. During an interview on K-Rock 97.3 FM's "The A-Train" show on March 2, Arakawa said the whole problem with the Triangle is occurring because of individuals who cannot "behave themselves" and just need to "grow up."
Needless to say, establishment owners in the Triangle are terrified of what might happen if the commission approves the 10pm restriction.
"We'll go out of business," Ambrosia owner Candice Seti told me. "Eighty-five percent of our business happens after 10pm."
Ambrosia, which is a bar only, is in an especially dire position. As for Tiki Lounge, which is also a restaurant, Tassi estimates that he'd have to cut 18 employees if the restriction went into effect, as well as a dozen musicians. But even shops in the Triangle that have nothing to do with live music or alcohol are scared. And outraged.
"This is huge, huge," said Lila Sherman, the owner of the Love Shack, an adult store in the heart of the Triangle. "Nobody will come here anymore. Nothing starts until 10, and the Liquor Commission knows that. If you do this for one bar, you do it for all. You don't use your power to wipe out just some people."
According to Seti, who has talked over the issue extensively with other Triangle bar and restaurant owners, there is huge money and tons of jobs at stake. "Millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs would be lost," she said, if the LC bans live entertainment after 10pm.
Jeff Gerard, the vice president of MW Group, which manages the Triangle, confirmed that the 10pm restriction would cost the bars and restaurants there tremendously. According to numbers he ran, Lulu's, Kahale's, Three's, Tiki Lounge, Ambrosia, Life's a Beach and Dog & Duck would collectively suffer the loss of 105 jobs (including musicians), $1,522,694 in lost pay to employees and musicians and $3,047,750 in lost annual sales revenue.
Seti also helped circulate an online petition that collected signatures from people opposed to the proposed rule change.
"A lot of people who've signed the petition are frequent tourists," she said. "They chose to come to Kihei because of the tropical beach feel, but also because of the nightlife. If there's no nightlife, they said, they'll vacation elsewhere."
At least one Triangle bar owner, who asked that we not use his name, has dealt with the LC over noise complaints before.
"We had complaints," the owner said. "The inspector came out with a decibel meter, but we had one of our own. We went outside one night when the band was playing and the inspector looked at the meter and said, 'See? You're too loud.' But then the band stopped playing, and the meter stayed where it was. It turned out the compressors on the roof of Foodland were causing the noise the meter was picking up. Nobody said anything to me after that."
It's very important to recognize here that the Triangle ultimately became "the Triangle"–the island's most densely packed night club destination–because the LC let it happen. Every time a liquor license applicant goes before the commission, a staff member will read a report into the record stating exactly how many similar licenses are already nearby, as well as the presence of any churches or schools within a 500-foot radius.
For years, Liquor Commissioners slept through these reports, paying little attention to location data. Coming back now, suddenly incensed that so many bars are packed into such a tight area, and start writing special license restrictions that penalize licensees because of their TMK number, is the height of hypocrisy.
This is also not the first time the Triangle as a whole has been on the Liquor Commission's radar screen. Back in the summer of 2007, the Commission contemplated requiring a midnight closure for all liquor licensees at the Triangle.
"That's a bad area," Silva told the commission at the time. "That's Indian Country."
Then, as now, the Maui Police said a crime wave was plaguing the Triangle and "draining" their available resources. The problem, MPD officers told the Commission, was that "there are too many bars in a small area."
The commissioners bristled at the implied dig at them, replying that maybe the cops should just lobby the mayor for more money. In the end, the Triangle's owners and management hired a private security firm (which is still active there today) and calmed down the crime situation, though the commission still placed some restrictions on Lulu's–"because [the building is] kind of open," Silva said.
What happens at the LC hearing on Mar. 14, though, is anyone's guess. Seti and Tassi told me they were rounding up people to attend the hearing, and it's certainly possible they'll pack the hearing chamber with owners, employees, musicians and patrons (it's similarly likely that residents from nearby homes and apartment complexes will show up, too).
As far as the Triangle bar owner who requested anonymity is concerned, he's not sure what he'll do.
"It would definitely hurt our business, but I don't know what choice we have," he said. "I don't particularly like it, but what choice do we have?"
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