Former Ohio State star Beanie Wells: Someone used my business to open troubled nightclub
Akron City Council withdrew a liquor permit objection this week after mistaking a low-key lounge bar for a private club next door with mysterious ties to a former Ohio State University football star.
Hookah Center, a private club at 1924 Buchholzer Blvd., has been a growing source of concern for law enforcement and other businesses in a struggling strip mall across from the old Chapel Hill Mall.
The club opened last month under the operation of All Is Possible Productions LLC., a company registered to Chris "Beanie" Wells, a standout running back for Akron Garfield High School and OSU.
After this article posted online, Wells called the Beacon Journal to explain that he or one of his attorneys created All Is Possible Productions LLC in 2014, but he never used the business and has no idea who's using it to run the Hookah Center.
"I never signed a lease. I've never been in any association with a bar or nightclub in Akron whatsoever," said Wells, who owns several companies that handle his real estate investments.
"I don't want my name associated with any club, especially if it's a nightclub that has an negative connotation toward it," said Wells. "That's not what I'm about. That's not what I stand for."
Wells said he's getting his attorney involved.
The owner of the strip mall filed this month to evict the club, which removed the eviction notice from its front door and continued to host after-hours parties.
Since opening in August, the parties have been potentially linked to altercations, including a fatal shooting earlier this month in the parking lot.
Trouble from the start
The Hookah Center has consistently brought unwanted attention since opening about five weeks ago, according to police, elected officials and neighboring businesses.
Rayveen Wilson, a bartender at the Wild Lotus Lounge next door, said she witnessed stabbings in the parking lot and a woman ramming her car into a man in the first couple weekends of events.
A sign on the double-door glass front entrance of The Hookah Center reads "PRIVATE VENUE" with a number to text for a lineup of upcoming events.
The private club distinction bars police from barging in to monitor alcohol consumption, check ages or keep the peace. Instead, a $20 cover charge buys patrons the opportunity to bring their own bottles of liquor and beer while watching strippers or listening to live music performances until 4 a.m.
The Wild Lotus asks its more mature crowd to leave by 2:30 a.m.
Surveillance footage from the Wild Lotus confirms that the lounge was mostly empty around 2:35 a.m. Sept. 4. As Wilson went about her closing duties, a series of gunshots burst next door.
Videos posted on social media show young men and women inside the Hookah Center curling up in balls on the floor, making their bodies as tiny as possible to avoid getting shot as patrons ran from the sound of gunshots rushing through the front door.
At 2:52 a.m., police arrived to find Dyron Miley, 23, of Akron, in the parking lot with a gunshot wound to the head. Officers administered first aid until paramedics arrived. Doctors at Summa Akron City Hospital pronounced Miley dead within the hour.
Wild Lotus mistakenly identified by city as trouble spot
Ward 2 Councilman Phil Lombardo mistook the Hookah Center for the bar next door when he saw the owner of the Wild Lotus Bar and Grill at 1922 Buchholzer Blvd. was asking the Ohio Liquor Control Commission to transfer the alcohol permit.
Florida native Paul Trott opened the Wild Lotus nearly a year ago in the Brubaker's Pub, one of many empty or repurposed storefronts in the strip mall owned by the Chen Family Akron Limited Trust Co.
Lombardo received full support from council when the elected body made a preliminary vote Monday afternoon to ask the state to block the liquor permit transfer.
During the committee meeting on Monday, the Beacon Journal asked Lombardo if he had the right place. So, he drove his truck to the bar to see for himself.
Upon arrival, Wilson, the bartender, and manager Ken Hogan welcomed Lombardo into the dimly lit lounge bar with neon lit high chairs and leather couches. They weren't opening for a few more hours, but Wilson wanted to get a jump-start on some cleaning.
This was not the bar that City Prosecutor Gert Wilms, speaking in favor of the liquor permit objection, had just described to council. Wilms also had confused the establishment with its rowdier neighbor.
"They're different people over there," Wilson said. "They're wild."
Akron City Council has withdrawn the liquor permit objection.
A Beanie Wells business?
Akron police Lt. Mike Miller said detectives think the operators of the Hookah Center are trying to pin the mayhem on the Wild Lotus, which may have added to the confusion Monday.
A patron of the Wild Lotus, which is allowed by state law to serve alcohol pending the liquor license transfer, showed police at the scene a bullet hole in her car.
The police reports list a generic address for the parking lot. An "after-hours" party is mentioned but no establishment, according to a police official.
A few days before the fatal shooting, Lombardo said he and Akron police Capt. Kris Beitzel went to talk with the owners of the Hookah Center. Lombardo said he met with a man who said his uncle had a stake in managing the club.
"I'm all about safety," the man repeated. Then he dropped the name of Beanie Wells, a standout Garfield High School running back and NFL draft pick who played under coach Jim Tressel at Ohio State University.
Wells is the listed owner of All Is Possible Productions LLC., the company the landlord is now trying to evict.
On the eviction notice still posted to the back door of the club, Jarreau McClendon is listed beside All Is Possible Productions LLC. McClendon did not respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday. On Wednesday, after seeing this article online, he emailed a reporter, leaving his phone number and writing that "this goes deeper than just a shooting and eviction notice."
A reporter called the number. No message could be left because the voicemail was not set up.
Business slower since Sept. 4 shooting
Trott said he's trying to give people a safe, relaxed place to catch a football game or enjoy a drink at the Wild Lotus. Business has been slower than usual since the early Saturday morning shooting on Sept. 4.
That night and the next weekend, Trott closed his bar out of an abundance of caution, to respect the slain young man and to allow for a candlelight vigil in honor of Miley. The Hookah Center, meanwhile, opened its doors the next night, letting in women for free if they wore lingerie.
Miller said Akron police step up patrols when bars and private establishments are scheduled to close, and neighborhood response teams, which focus on nuisance and quality of life concerns, are made aware of their locations.
Hookah Center's side of the story
Fifteen hours after the deadly shooting, McClendon emailed Akron's mayor, prosecutor, council and police to dispute any connection to the violence.
McClendon argued that requests for Akron police and county sheriffs to be paid to work security for Hookah Center events have gone ignored because "this is a black establishment." He called police and media who characterize his club as an "after-hours" location "disrespectful and incorrect."
The night in question began as an after party for a Wild N' Out Akron showcase at an event center on Market Street, McClendon explained.
"Though an altercation did break out on the inside of our venue there was no gun fire inside of our establishment," McClendon, who did not respond to the Beacon Journal's request for an interview, wrote in his email to city officials. "Shortly after 2:30 [a.m.] the venue was being vacated due to the events inside when the sounds of gunfire erupted from the parking lot. Patrons then began to attempt to run to cars but they were turned around and ran back into our establishment due to the blaze of bullets near their parked vehicles."
McClendon's concerns echoed those of the promoter at Mature Lounge off Main Street in downtown Akron, where the bar operator said another fatal shooting occurred away from the bar after police ignored requests to take an off-duty security job.
"Knowing the recent uptick in violence we were hoping to build a safety blanket for those who frequent the area and people in general when it comes to the north Akron neighborhood," McClendon wrote. "I feel like our needs are not being met due to the ability of the powers that be to just close our businesses down and keep it moving."
In his email, McClendon said he hopes public officials and he could come together to provide a safe "beacon of quality entertainment services in the city."
"I am a realist," he said. "And I know that it is more so the people of my own origin causing these problems for the community. I am also a capitalist, meaning I can see the value in the demand for a place where people in my demographic can go and enjoy themselves."
Reach reporter Doug Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3792.