Owner of V-Live on Miami Beach says he’s targeted by city
Since opening a club on Ocean Drive, former rapper Akinyele Adams has racked up a long rap sheet: at least five arrests in two years.
The alleged crime? Turning up the music too loud at V-Live, a club Adams owns on the iconic South Beach street that combines soul food, music and scantily clad dancers who twirl around poles but don’t strip naked.
V-Live has also been cited more than 10 times by Miami Beach’s code compliance department for a range of alleged violations including loud noise, patrons blocking the sidewalk and trash found outside the building. Adams is contesting the code citations, which could amount to thousands of dollars in fines.
The former rapper, who said that he was the only black business owner on Ocean Drive when he first opened the club, feels that he’s being targeted by city officials because of his race. He characterized the police response as “harassment.”
“I look around and I hear music everywhere on Ocean Drive and no one else has been arrested for music playing on Ocean Drive,” Adams said. “I’m the only one that looks different from everyone else on Ocean Drive and I’m going through this,” he added.
City officials and condo owners at The Netherland — the condo/hotel building where the club is located — tell a different story, however. They argue that Adams has repeatedly flouted the rules and say that V-Live has hurt residents’ quality of life. The tensions highlight the ongoing debate over the future of Ocean Drive, which is popular with tourists and known for a party atmosphere that sometimes causes headaches for residents.
Condo owners at The Netherland have complained to city officials that V-Live’s loud music keeps them up at night, that crowds congregate outside the building and that patrons use drugs in building common areas. Of roughly 120 noise complaints recorded on Ocean Drive this year between January and mid-September, the largest number — nearly 20 percent — were complaints about V-Live.
But arrests for loud noise are rare in Miami Beach. Violators typically get a code citation and a fine. Under a county noise ordinance, playing loud music at night that can be heard 100 feet from a building is an arrestable offense, but Miami Beach police appear to enforce the ordinance only rarely. City police made just 14 arrests under the ordinance between 2016 and August 2018, at least five of which involved Adams. (Adams said that he has been arrested eight times for noise violations, but in response to the Herald’s request for records, Miami Beach released only five arrest reports. It’s unclear whether Adams has been arrested more than five times.)
Mayor Dan Gelber, who has received complaints from condo owners about V-Live, said the former rapper is not being targeted by city officials. “Obviously he’s not been selectively chosen. He repeatedly and enthusiastically violates the noise ordinance to the detriment of neighbors and residents,” Gelber said. “He’s a terrible neighbor and frankly ought to be only looking at his own conduct and no one else’s.”
Giulio Idone, a Netherland condo owner whose family spends part of the year in Miami Beach, said that the loud music and crowds of clubgoers have made it “impossible to live” in the building and “impossible to sleep.” He said that problems caused by the club have also made it harder for condo owners to rent their units.
Idone, who wrote a letter complaining to city officials last month, said he’s seen clubgoers using drugs in the building’s common areas and that patrons have gotten into fights outside the building. The letter was co-signed by Roberto Viejo, Loredana Dal Santo and Bert Muelman, three other condo owners with units in the building.
Adams acknowledged that V-Live has had some “minor incidents with customers like any other club,” but said that he has not seen patrons use drugs in building common areas.
Strip club or soul food restaurant?
The controversy over V-Live started before the club opened. In the summer of 2016, lawyers representing The Netherland condo association raised concerns about risqué promotional videos Adams had posted online, which fueled rumors that a strip club was moving into the neighborhood. In a letter to the city, the lawyers noted that the promotional videos included “explicit scenes of exotic dancers” performing at another club and warned viewers not to get “too close to the ladies or you will pay child support.” The letter described Adams’ statements in the videos as “clear and convincing evidence” that the proposed venue would violate city regulations.
Adams, the former general manager of the King of Diamonds strip club, insisted at the time that he just wanted to open a soul food restaurant. Adams couldn’t have legally opened a strip club on Ocean Drive even if he wanted to because of city regulations. In an interview last month, Adams described his vision for the business as “an urban Hooters.” He noted that scantily clad dancers are a feature of other Ocean Drive businesses as well. On its Facebook page, V-Live describes itself as an “adult entertainment service” and restaurant.
The Netherland condo association also filed a lawsuit against the city of Miami Beach in 2016 in an effort to keep the club from opening. The Netherland argued that the club violated city code because it was located on the second floor where commercial units are prohibited. The city countered that the club was located in an upper lobby and the case was eventually dismissed.
Now, the dispute has once again landed in court, with Adams suing The Netherland condo association, a restaurant adjacent to The Netherland called Finnegan’s Way, and the manager of both businesses. Lawyers representing Adams said they are “contemplating” suing Miami Beach as well.
The suit, which was filed in June, alleges that after “having failed through legitimate and legal means” to keep Adams from operating his business, “Defendants initiated a persistent and continuing illegal campaign of harassment and intimidation” with the goal of shutting down the operation. The suit also claims that the manager and employees of The Netherland and Finnegan’s Way “acted maliciously in providing false information” to the Miami Beach police that resulted in Adams’ arrests.
The Netherland, Finnegan’s Way and manager Ian Hendry adamantly deny the allegations. Finnegan’s Way said in an e-mail that the restaurant “has not experienced any issues” with V-Live and that none of its employees has called the police or the city’s code enforcement department with a complaint about the club. The Netherland and Hendry said that the building’s concierge desk has received numerous complaints about “unreasonably loud noise” coming from V-Live and that when either residents or the concierge call code enforcement after hours, the calls roll over to the police department’s non-emergency number.
“The Netherland has no control over what Miami Beach Code Enforcement or the Miami Beach Police do when they arrive,” Hendry and the condo association said in their e-mailed responses.
In motions to dismiss the lawsuit, lawyers representing the businesses argued that the suit fails to establish that their employees caused Adams’ arrests, noting that the arrest reports reference complaints made by residents.
Whether it was the concerns about V-Live becoming a strip club or other reasons, Adams’ new business did get a lot of scrutiny both as it was being built and after it opened.
Adams said the business was visited by Miami Beach police officers, including a vice detective, while the club was under construction, and by code compliance officials who he said “made it very, very, very clear that I’m going to have a hard time here.”
The contractor who oversaw the construction at V-Live, James Corpora, told an investigator working for Adams’ lawyers that he had never seen a business owner receive as much scrutiny, according to the investigator’s notes.
After V-Live opened in October 2016, a group of police officers would frequently gather across the street, according to Adams, which he said made customers uncomfortable. “It looks like a crime scene happened across the street,” he said.
Adams was first arrested for playing loud music in January 2017, but was not taken into custody after he signed a promise to appear in court. The arrest report notes that Adams was “advised by city officials numerous times about the blaring, loud music.”
Adams said he had only received one verbal warning about the music on the day of the arrest and that he complied with instructions to turn down the music. He said he hadn’t been warned about the music on previous days.
The former rapper was arrested again the next night for playing loud music, which the arrest report said “could be heard clearly through the walls which were vibrating from the heavy bass playing.” This time, Adams was taken into custody and spent the night in jail. He was arrested three more times that year.
“It would just destroy me because I’m sitting outside in handcuffs,” Adams said. “Now when you’re walking by and you see me in handcuffs, the last thing you think is a noise violation. It doesn’t look great.”
Adams told the Miami Herald that prior to opening V-Live he had never been arrested, but Miami Beach police records show that Adams had been arrested in 2013 for marijuana possession. The charges were dismissed, court records show.
Miami Beach’s chief deputy city attorney, Aleksandr Boksner, described Adams’ allegations that he has been targeted and harassed by city officials as “unfounded” and “meritless,” but said in an e-mail that because of “the threat of impending litigation,” he could not answer specific questions about the city’s interactions with Adams.
Boksner added that the city “merely seeks compliance” when it issues noise violations and typically issues a warning for a first offense.
“Regrettably, if the alleged violator continues or subsequently resumes blaring noise above the permissible limit, despite previously being warned against such unlawful behavior, at that juncture the City has no choice but to begin using alternative enforcement mechanisms in an attempt to gain compliance with the offending individual or business,” Boksner said.
But Adams said that as a business owner on Ocean Drive, where loud music is frequently blasting from bars and restaurants, he feels singled out. The club is located in a mixed-use entertainment district and can serve alcohol until 5 a.m. While V-Live has received the greatest number of noise complaints on Ocean Drive this year — a total of 22 as of mid-September, according to city records — the city has gotten more than ten complaints each about three other businesses on the street. Adams also hasn’t been convicted of any of the noise violations for which he was arrested, court records show. The charges were dismissed in three cases and two others are still open. Six of the 22 noise complaints about V-Live in 2018 resulted in a code citation.
City officials have proposed numerous restrictions aimed at taming the South Beach entertainment district in recent years, some of which have been more successful than others. Last year, voters rejected a measure that would have ended drinking on Ocean Drive at 2 a.m. instead of 5 a.m.
Earlier this year, a rowdy spring break brought thousands of young visitors to South Beach, packing the entertainment district with so many people one Saturday night that police had to temporarily close the MacArthur Causeway to incoming traffic. Afterward, city officials proposed a number of changes including a crackdown on drivers blasting loud music from car stereos. Next week, the City Commission will take a final vote on restrictions that would reduce the number of Ocean Drive establishments exempt from certain noise restrictions.