Mark Lowe struggled for the right word to capture his idea for Wynwood's first and only major nightclub. "It's definitely not a lounge, but I wouldn't describe it as a megaclub either. It's really its own entity -- it's a house," Lowe told New Times. That was 2011. Two years later, his club, House, has yet to open.
Delays are nothing new in Miami's nightlife scene. But Lowe -- who has been involved in opening 14 other clubs over the past decade, including Living Room in Fort Lauderdale -- says his House ordeal has nothing to do with managerial missteps or financing snafus. Instead, he says, it's due to collusion among rival clubs downtown and city officials.
"The truth is that they know Wynwood is a threat," says Lowe, who sports a shock of blond hair and modelish looks. "The downtown clubs are trying to wipe out any business outside of their neighborhood by any means possible."
Lowe's particular beef is with Michael Slyder, co-owner of 24-hour nightclub Mekka and the president of the Miami Entertainment District Association (MEDA), which represents all-hours clubs downtown.
Slyder is a major player in Miami's nightlife scene. Earlier this year, Miami Police started handing out citations like Halloween candy to Wynwood clubs after Slyder complained they were staying open past their licenses.
Now Slyder is leaning on local politicians and city officials to delay or prevent House from opening, Lowe claims. Slyder did not respond to numerous requests for comment, but emails obtained by New Times bolster Lowe's argument.
In one email, sent October 2 to Vanessa Trujillo of the city's Planning and Zoning Department, Slyder writes on behalf of MEDA to ask for "assistance in filing an appeal" to House's application for a 5 a.m. license.
(Although House is commonly thought of as Wynwood's first megaclub, it is technically across the street from Wynwood in the Omni district and therefore eligible for a 5 a.m. license.)
"We recently discovered that a Supper Club Exclusion was approved by the PZAB Board on 9/23/13 for a proposed bar that is located at 1915 NW Miami Court," Slyder wrote to Trujillo. "This proposed bar does not meet the requirements of a Supper Club."
Another email sent to Daniel S. Goldberg, legislative assistant for Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, asks to meet to talk about House and Wynwood's pending increase in liquor licenses.
It's unclear whether Slyder and Sarnoff actually sat down together, because neither would talk to New Times.
But -- surprise! -- both issues went Slyder's way. During an October 24 Planning and Zoning Committee hearing, Sarnoff postponed giving Wynwood more liquor licenses. Then he restricted House's liquor license to 4 a.m. instead of 5, citing the need for a one-hour "cooling off period" to allow people to sober up before driving home.
Lowe says the hour difference does not deter drunk driving but could kill his dream club before it's even born. "It's not about an extra dollar. It's simply about the viability of the business," he says, adding that he has sunk $4 million of his own money into the project. "At 4 a.m., we are going to be bombarded by cops hassling every customer. That's what they did to Wynwood, and I don't want that."
Above all, however, Lowe is angry that another club owner is using a nonprofit with close ties to city cops, officials, and comissioners to attack House before it even opens.
"To think that one man and his personal relationship [with Sarnoff] is going to jeopardize this for me, or for Wynwood, is outrageous," Lowe says. "You can't shut down an area because you don't want growth. And any commissioner or person who is against that is clearly against growth. That's money and jobs. Why is that a bad thing?"
Here is a copy of the emails obtained by New Times: