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Code violations, lack of licenses may thwart Tralf's opening

Tonight is curtain up for the Tralf, but it remains uncertain whether the downtown nightclub will open as planned.

A city inspection Wednesday turned up about 20 code violations, including problems with the overhead sprinkler system. Peter Klemann, the city inspector handling the case, said it is "unlikely" that owner Rohit Kapoor will be able to make all the repairs necessary to obtain permits and licenses required by the city in time for this evening's scheduled performance by the Joshua Breakstone Trio.

"I certainly hope he can put everything in place to open, but it looks pretty rough, pretty ambitious," Klemann said late Wednesday afternoon. "It doesn't sound terribly practical at all."

Kapoor, meanwhile, said he is confident the club will open as scheduled.

"Everyone is working together to make it happen," he said. "We're going to have a great season."

After taking a summer break, Kapoor was planning to reopen today without a restaurant license, a restaurant-dance license, a certificate of inspection and building permits for about $300,000 worth of work done on the club last fall. Kapoor was obligated to have them when he opened the club a year ago and ignored two orders from the city last spring to close because of his failure to obtain them.

City officials said Friday they would not allow the Tralf to open without the approvals, and Kapoor swung into action.

Why the delay in getting the licenses and permits?

"He indicated to me it's a 'rush-rush' now because as recently as a month ago, he wasn't sure he was going to open back up again," Klemann said of Kapoor.

That contradicts what Kapoor told The Buffalo News in mid-July, when he said the club would reopen Sept. 15.

Klemann said he and city fire officials inspected the Tralf on Wednesday and found numerous violations. Some were related to remodeling done last fall, while others predate Kapoor's tenure, Klemann said.

The most serious violations, he said, involve problems with the sprinkler system. This is no small consideration, given the threat by city officials several years ago to close nightclubs without proper sprinkler systems after a 2003 fire at a concert in Rhode Island killed 99.

Some areas of the Tralf lack sprinklers, Klemann said, and the placement of dropped ceilings in other sections of the club would obstruct the flow of water in the event of a fire.

Many of the remaining violations involve electrical flaws, Klemann said, which he characterized as "a laundry list of minor stuff that can be overwhelming."

The building needs to pass inspection to receive the certificate of inspection and restaurant-related licenses that city officials want before the Tralf opens. That means Kapoor must get all the repairs done by today and have the work inspected and approved by building, electrical, fire and county health inspectors.

Kapoor said, "Everything is squared away with the [State Liquor Authority] and the [county] Health Department."

But a Health Department official said no such approval can be granted until
an inspection scheduled for today. SLA officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Klemann said the SLA requires a restaurant license in order for a club such as the Tralf to sell alcohol.

Mary Rizzo, the city's supervisor of licenses, said Wednesday she was awaiting necessary paperwork from Kapoor.

One of the licenses, which allows dancing at a restaurant, requires approval by the Common Council, which does not meet again until Tuesday. The Tralf under previous management had the license.

Also, Kapoor had not submitted a required criminal background check as of late Wednesday morning, Rizzo said.

Kapoor on Wednesday maintained he does not need the license to open, provided he stops people from dancing in the club. Rizzo said that staging a concert without dancing requires another permit, which Kapoor had not applied for.

Kapoor made progress Wednesday on one important front -- he submitted architectural drawings and a building permit application for work done last fall. He also hired an architect. His previous architect said he quit because Kapoor failed to pay him.

e-mail: jheaney@buffnews.com

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