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Tralf lacks permits, licenses for reopening City officials insist club must comply

The Tralf nightclub is poised to resume operations Thursday despite its failure to obtain required permits and licenses from the city.

City officials, who cut the nightclub's operators some slack last season, said they will stop the club from reopening until all legal obligations have been met.

"For the Tralf to be open for business, they're going to have to comply with the city's licensing and permitting regulations," said Eva M. Hassett, Mayor Anthony M. Masiello's chief of staff.

The downtown club took its customary summer break in July, shortly after The Buffalo News reported that Rohit Kapoor, the owner, was months behind paying some bills, had failed to get building permits for work totaling $300,000 and was ignoring a city order to close because of its failure to obtain business licenses.

Not much has changed.

City officials said Kapoor has not obtained any of the required permits and licenses. Some creditors, as well as former employees, said they still are waiting for their money.

That hasn't stopped Kapoor from making plans for the upcoming season. The Tralf has booked 13 shows over the next month, according to advertisements, starting with a concert Thursday by the Joshua Breakstone Trio.

In July, city officials threatened legal action against the Tralf. That prompted William Huntress, president of Acquest Development, the Tralf's landlord and a financial backer, to assure Masiello that the club's problems would be resolved over the summer, Hassett said. Based on those assurances, the city backed off on legal action.

Little has transpired.

An architect apparently hired by Huntress reviewed city documents about three weeks ago, but he has not filed the necessary drawings and permit applications, said Peter Klemann, a building inspector. Late last week, Klemann said he was "flabbergasted" to learn the Tralf planned to reopen.

"Nothing is submitted," he said. "I haven't heard from [Kapoor's] organization all summer long, and I haven't heard anything from the Acquest organization."

Kapoor also has failed to obtain two required business licenses and a certificate of inspection, Mary Zizzo, the city's supervisor of licenses, said, adding, "Nothing has changed."

Among other things, she said Kapoor has not submitted to a required criminal background check and failed to show up for a county Health Department hearing to consider his application.

The Tralf was supposed to obtain the two business licenses and certificate of inspection before it opened last September. When it failed to do so, the city issued cease-and-desist orders in April and June, telling Kapoor to close the club. He ignored the orders, and officials chose not to enforce them through legal action.

Hassett said the city now will demand compliance.

"They've had plenty of time, and they're not going to be treated any differently than anyone else," she said.

How long would obtaining the necessary approvals take?

One of the business licenses, permitting dancing in a restaurant, requires approval from the Common Council, which usually acts no sooner than three to four weeks after the application is submitted, Zizzo said. Approvals for inspections and building permits take a week, at best, and usually longer, Klemann said.

Kapoor's problems apparently don't end with the city.

At least some of the vendors owed $17,000 in July still are awaiting payment. They include Advance 2000, an Amherst firm that sold the Tralf its telephone system.

This summer, the Tralf had repaid only $4,000 of a $50,000 loan from the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., a city development agency, when officials turned it over to an attorney for collections. Kapoor's grandfather, who co-signed the loan, has since started making payments, city officials said.

Payroll apparently remains a problem. A former employee, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, said Kapoor owes him money from June.

In the last year, Kapoor had periodic problems making payroll.

Kapoor declined to comment, other than to say he continues to operate the Tralf and has hired a new manager. Huntress, his landlord, could not be contacted, and George Wallenfels, Acquest comptroller, declined to comment.

The Tralf has operated in Theater Place on Main Street since 1982, earning a reputation primarily as a jazz club. It has had persistent money woes over the years but had been doing better while operated by Bobby Militello, a jazz musician who was ousted in June 2004 by Acquest in favor of Kapoor, who never had run a nightclub before.

Kapoor previously acknowledged a "rough" first year, rooted partly in his inexperience. But he has expressed confidence that the club can be profitable by this time next year.

e-mail: jheaney@buffnews.com

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