In the wake of the decision rendered on Monday January 12th, 2009 by U.S. District Judge William Downes that the popular Salt Lake night spot Port O'Call must shut its doors by March 15th, an estimated 100 people showed up on Wednesday evening to support the club and protest the decision. Media stories from KSL Channel 5 (with video), KTVX Channel 4 (with video), and the Salt Lake Tribune.
The popular night spot is closing to make way for the condemnation of the building where it's located to make way for a new courthouse complex. The club has been in business for over 20 years, and has developed a fiercely loyal clientele that look upon the staff as family. As one protestor described it, "this is kind of everybody's Cheers of Salt Lake". The club was patronized by Mormons and non-Mormons alike. On his blog, J.M. Bell discusses his impressions of the place; he worked there as a bouncer during the '90s and has been a steady customer ever since. Other local reaction posted on the Salt Lake City Weekly blog.
The owner, Kent Knowley, was touched by the support. "I love that everybody is coming out and supporting us. It makes a little easier to say goodbye to this and hello to a new place", said Knowley. KTVX video embedded below:
But while the club has become a solid local fixture, it wasn't until the Soviet-style Federal show trial of former National Alliance Chairman Shaun Walker in April 2007 that it achieved some national prominence as well. Walker, along with co-defendants Travis Massey and Eric Egbert, was accused of violating the civil rights of a Mexican-American during a bar fight at O'Shucks on December 31, 2002, and of an American Indian during a bar fight at the Port O'Call on March 15th, 2003. Upon the advice of counsel, neither of the three testified in their own defense during the trial, and it cost them - they were found guilty. Walker, who is currently a POW incarcerated for 87 months at FCI Sandstone, MN, asserts that he left O'Shuck's before the first fight broke out, and that he wasn't at the Port O'Call for the second fight. But the trial brought the Port O'Call a bit of national notoriety.
Judge Downes picked a date halfway between the requests of two sides in a condemnation case. The owners of the social club wanted to operate until April 15th and then have until mid-May to move out, while the federal government asked for possession of the property by Thursday. But Jannette Knowley, one of the Port O' Call owners, said two months will not be enough time to find a new home for the club, which employs about 90 workers. She noted that the deadline to vacate the property comes right before St. Patrick's Day. But the owner is not closing the place forever - he's actively searching for a new home for the club and promises the shingle will be re-hung somewhere in Salt Lake.
The condemnation of the property -- the Shubrick Building, home of Port O' Call and the unoccupied Galley and DeWorth buildings -- will open up space just west of the Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse at 350 S. Main St. Knowley and her husband, Kent Knowley, are majority owners of the three buildings. The Shubrick Building occupies approximately two-thirds of an acre in the southwest corner of a 4½-acre site being used for the courthouse expansion. But still to be decided is how much the government will pay for the property. The condemnation filing values the buildings and land at $5,465,000, but the owners say the property is worth more.
The story behind this actually dates back 10 years. According to Utahstories.com, the Feds decided they needed a larger courthouse in Utah. For three years they conducted a study to determine the location for the new courthouse. The initial plan was to tear down Oddfellows Hall and build directly behind the current Frank Moss Courthouse. But instead, they decided to move the 5,000,000 pound Oddfellows Hall across the street at a cost of $6-10 million (when the building is only worth $10 million), and instead tear down the Shubrick building -- which just happened to be home to the most popular bar in downtown Salt Lake City -- the Port O'Call.
Utahstories.com then goes on to document all the maneuvering and chicanery behind the scenes. The website even claims that the City Weekly, which professes outrage over the bar's impending closure, was "bribed" by the Feds to move out of the building for $45,000 (they actually were looking to relocate anyway). The Feds plan to demolish the Shubrick building, but must wait until Congress appropriates funds for the courthouse annex. GSA says the earliest building could possibly begin is 2010. Meanwhile, Salt Lake City gets stuck with another vacant lot which could be an attractive nuisance for ne'er-do-wells. And that's another reason why Salt Lakers have their panties in a twist over the issue.
I can't blame them. Why GSA wants to spend $6.7 million to move a condemned building is beyond me. Too bad Jason Chaffetz got elected to Congress too late to stop this boondoggle.