Milky Way reopens

November 30, 2007
By

JOHN RUCH

Milky Way Lounge & Lanes, the popular Hyde Square nightclub and bowling alley, was temporarily shut down Nov. 15 by fire inspectors for failing to install a sprinkler system as required by law.

“We are going to install the sprinklers,” Milky Way co-owner Carol Downs told the Gazette last week. “We have officially and permanently reopened.”

The James’s Gate pub and the American Legion Post 76 were reportedly granted extensions to install sprinklers. Meanwhile, the status of Spontaneous Celebrations, a local arts venue, is unclear, with reports variously saying it was granted an extension and that the law doesn’t apply to it at all.

The Boston Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Division did not respond to a Gazette request for a full list of businesses affected by the sprinkler law and a clarification of the Spontaneous Celebrations situation.

The Milky Way, at 403 Centre St., was one of three Boston bars and nightclubs shut down Nov. 15—the deadline for complying with the 2004 Fire Safety Act, which requires sprinklers in entertainment venues with an occupancy of 100 or more people.

The law was passed in response to the infamous 2003 fire at a Rhode Island nightclub that killed 100 people. That club had no sprinklers. A stagehand and a club co-owner were imprisoned for manslaughter. The owners were also hit with massive fines and multiple lawsuits.

Downs said the Milky Way attempted to get an extension on the sprinkler installation but didn’t due to some paperwork confusion. The reason for the extension, she said, was the $70,000 cost of installation and the fact that the current lease expires next summer.

“It’s a huge capital investment in a building we do not own,” Downs said. “Once the new lease is in place, we’d be happy to install sprinklers.”

Asked if the sprinkler cost is part of lease renegotiations, Downs said, “Of 300 venues subject to this law, which was intended to make landlords install [sprinklers], only one landlord is paying for sprinklers,” adding it is not Milky Way’s landlord. “It’s all tenants who are paying,” she said.

Mordechai Levin, the property’s landlord, declined to comment for this article.

“It is our desire to stay in this location,” Downs added. “We love this neighborhood. It’s a good fit. Our concept works in this location.”

The Fire Safety Act included an increased tax deduction for the installation of sprinkler systems as a way to lessen the financial impact.

Downs said that the Milky Way, a basement club with an occupancy of 176, followed a requirement of the law last year by filing contractor plans to install a sprinkler system.

Then, in August of this year, they applied for an extension of up to one year to actually perform the installation, which is allowed under the law.

“We never received any response from [the fire department],” Downs said. “They took no action.” In addition, she said, the club did not receive an October notice sent out by the fire department about the extension process.

The bottom line was that the Milky Way did not have an extension on deadline day. Fire inspectors revoked the club’s occupancy permit, shutting it down.

Downs and Milky Way co-owner Kathie Mainzer then won a court injunction that allowed them to stay open that weekend—with the condition that they hire four firefighters to stay on-site at all times.

On Nov. 19, the Milky Way went back to court to seek the extension, and
lost.
“Essentially, the court said we needed to install the sprinklers,” Downs said. “Right now, we are committed to installing the sprinklers.”

The court decision left the Milky Way shut down on Monday and Tuesday of last week. It reopened Nov. 21 after filing sprinkler installation plans with the fire department.

“We’re moving ahead to install [sprinklers] within the next few weeks,” Downs said, adding that the installation will be done during the day so that the club can remain open for business at night.
Other locations

A Boston Globe report put Spontaneous Celebrations, at 45 Danforth St., on a list of more than 60 halls that gained an extension to install sprinklers.

But, Executive Director Jen Kiok told the Gazette, “We were told we’re actually in the clear, that we didn’t fit into that category [of needing sprinklers].”

“We had appealed it, because we’re not a nightclub. We’re a community center,” Kiok said, adding that fire officials at first denied the appeal.

But, she said, a fire official later gave them a description of venues that the law applies to, which Spontaneous did not match.

She added that the arts organization was concerned enough about the sprinkler requirement to hold a board meeting, and was planning a public appeal if the requirement applied.

Also on the Globe’s extension list are James’s Gate, 5 McBride St. at the corner of South St., and the American Legion post at 280 South St. in Forest Hills. James’s Gate owner Paulie Byrne declined to comment for this article. No one at the Legion post was available for comment.