Dance Academy could become mosque after owner loses licence
THE owner of the Dance Academy has claimed he may hand the property over to a charity – to turn it into a mosque.
The unexpected twist in the ongoing saga that is the historic Palace Theatre comes as Plymouth City Council's licensing sub-committee revoked the premises licence from Manoucehr Bahmanzadeh.
The Union Street club has remained closed since a police raid in May 2006 and a review of the premises licence has been repeatedly postponed since then due to legal proceedings.
At the licensing sub-committee hearing yesterday Mr Bahmanzadeh claimed he had "no intention of touching" the licensed business, saying he had retired and he was only attending "for my name and name only".
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He also claimed his attempt to overturn his conviction was now going "to the European Court".
Speaking after the committee's decision to revoke the license, Mr Bahmanzadeh, who left the hearing early, told The Herald: "They just wanted to give me the last humiliation.
"Why would I want to remain and listen to them?
"It's not my plan to open the club as a club. There are charities who are after it, who are considering it.
"I'm considering giving it away for a charity. I'm very much considering giving it to an Islamic charity to turn it into a mosque."
During the hearing, the committee heard evidence from Plymouth police's licensing team, the council's environmental health department, a city resident and councillor Susan McDonald, who spoke on behalf of residents in the area.
James Taghdissian, solicitor for Plymouth police recounted how the force had made an application for a review of the premises licence on June 1, 2006, saying the premises was "associated" with crime and disorder.
Review proceedings had been repeatedly adjourned, initially due to the court cases, but also while Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) confiscation proceedings were completed.
Mr Bahmanzadeh spoke without legal representation at the hearing, saying: "I've totally retired. I don't want to touch this licence business. I've purely come here to save my name.
"I've had this licence 17 years. I stood here then [for the licence] and I never ever betrayed this [licence]."
However, when Mr Bahmanzadeh began to criticise the police investigation, he was stopped by committee chairman Cllr Eddie Rennie.
Mr Bahmanzadeh went on to explain that the 'Safer Clubbing Guide' – issued by the Home Office explaining how local councils and police should deal with venues like the Dance Academy – was ignored by the authorities.
He also questioned why Harbour drug rehab centre staff, who operated out of his club for several years, stopped just as the police investigation began – and why notes of a key meeting between a licensing officer and himself went missing.
When again halted by the committee, Mr Bahmanzadeh said it was "pointless wasting your time because there's nothing I can say – they [the police] should have treated me according to the book [Home Office guide]."
He then left the hearing.
Lee McDowell, a former senior environmental health officer with responsibility for licensing, giving evidence on behalf of Plymouth City Council, said its environmental regulation service had raised "significant concerns" about potential public safety issues as far back as May 2006.
Drawing the committee's attention to photographs taken inside the club the month of the raid, he highlighted a number of concerns including faeces on walls of toilet cubicles, trip and slip hazards throughout the venue and broken glass panels on doors. He also noted low balcony walls where patrons could have fallen, unsecured speaker stacks and loose or bare wiring.
He said the issues noted combined to "impact significantly on public welfare and public safety" and it "showed the systemic failure in management".
Cllr McDonald said the area had improved since the club shut down.
She said residents had suffered for many years with noise pollution and anti-social behaviour.
After deliberation, the committee moved to revoke the premises licence.
A Devon and Cornwall Police spokesman said afterwards: "The overwhelming evidence put before the licensing committee really left them with no other option but to revoke the license."
Syed Rahman, chairman of the Plymouth and Cornwall Islamic Centre, was taken aback at the offer.
"I'm surprised by it," he said. "If he wanted to give it to us, we would have to talk about it.
"It's a good place, nobody is denying it, but there's no parking there and it would cost a lot of money to repair.
"It's a very kind gesture. I would be very happy to hear from Mr Bahmanzadeh, but we would have to look at it a lot closer.
"If we took it on now we would have to sell our current place in North Road East."
HISTORY OF THE DANCE ACADEMY
ORIGINALLY built for the Livermore Brothers, the Palace Theatre opened in 1898 as a music hall.
The Grade II listed building played host to entertainment greats such as Gracie Fields, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, and Frankie Howerd.
In 1997 Manoucehr Bahmanzadeh purchased the building, which by then had become extremely dilapidated, for £550,000.
Over the next seven years the Dance Academy became the largest and most popular nightclub in the South West attracting superstar trance and hard house DJs like Judge Jules, Lisa Lashes and Sasha.
However, according to police, by 2005 local and northern drug gangs began to infiltrate the venue, selling class A drugs to revellers. A six-month undercover operation – Operation Jonamac – was launched and on May 6, 2006, the venue was raided and closed.
Court cases which followed saw 13 dealers sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 12 months to four-and-a-half years.
In July 2008 DJ and general manager Tom Costelloe was jailed for five years, while Mr Bahmanzadeh was jailed for nine years on the joint charge of permitting the premises to be used for the supply of Class A drugs.
Mr Bahmanzadeh was ordered to pay a £1million Proceeds of Crime Act bill – although The Herald later revealed that £950,730 of it was retained by the State of Jersey after a legal wrangle with the British Government.
He attempted to overturn his conviction last year at the Court of Appeal, but failed.
He did, however, see his sentence reduced to seven-and-a-half years.
The building, which is on the 'at risk' lists of English Heritage, the Theatres Trust, and the Victorian Society, is described as being in elaborate Flemish Renaissance style, blending Art Nouveau with military motifs and scenes of the Spanish Armada.
The Theatres Trust once said it was "fantastic and opulent" and "one of Plymouth's best surviving Victorian buildings."