Clubs, students struggle with capacity

In the wake of the Oct. 2 raid on Elevate Lounge, the Yale administration is beginning to enforce stricter rules for off-campus student events.

The administration is increasingly encouraging residential college student activity committees to hold events on campus whenever possible and to avoid venues on Crown Street, Council of Masters Chair and Calhoun Master Jonathan Holloway GRD ’95 said. Though masters and deans said they will survey plans for off-campus parties more strictly than on-campus ones and despite the New Haven fire marshal’s claim that some downtown venues lie to students about their capacities to increase earnings, colleges have continued to throw dances in New Haven restaurants and clubs.

To make sure off-campus parties are safe, Holloway said masters and deans are being more careful about double-checking the capacities and insurance of off-campus clubs and bars before approving them as venues for student events.

He added that administrators have felt a “heightened concern” since the Elevate incident, and that Crown Street, which is often too popular and crowded at night, is an unfavorable location for student events.

“If there are venues we can find that are not on Crown Street, let’s go to those venues instead,” said Holloway.

Jaya Wen ’12, co-chair of the Ezra Stiles Student Activities Committee, said when she helped organize the Morse-Stiles Screw at Elevate, the club did not provide them with an official capacity. When the New Haven Police raided the party, one of the explanations given was that it had grown beyond capacity. But Wen said the club’s managers opened the door in the middle of the event between the upstairs Elevate Lounge and the downstairs Alchemy Club to accommodate the number of attendees. The upstairs venue holds 150 people; the downstairs, 350.

New Haven Fire Marshal Joe Cappucci said that many local businesses often give students false information about the maximum capacity of their venues.

Cappucci said he does not like to break up Yale parties, but cannot ignore issues of safety.

“Usually, I like to let the University do its own thing, if the [Yale Police Department] is there,” he said, but added that if a business violates fire code, he has to intervene.

Many businesses stretch their capacities to make extra money, Cappucci said. One restaurant that he declined to name had told Yale students that it could take 300 guests at a time, he said, but when he sent an employee to inspect, the person found that the building could only hold 110.

Nate Zelinsky ’13, Davenport SAC co-chair, said the Davenport Screw was originally meant to be held at Thali Too on Nov. 6.

“The manager of Thali Too originally said he couldn’t get us a standing capacity limit,” Zelinsky said. “But after the fire marshal came in, [the manager] verbally assured us that the capacity was over 300.”

But when Zelinsky and Carolyn Haller, the Davenport College budget officer, called Cappucci to confirm this number, Cappucci said he would never give Thali Too a capacity greater than 150. The DCC had to move their screw to the college dining hall in under 48 hours, Zelinsky said.

Rappan Kaul, manager of Thali Too, said the number he originally gave Zelinsky was a rough estimate, as he “was not familiar with the actual numbers.”

When the Berkeley Screw was held at Thali Too on Nov. 5., the Berkeley College Council sold tickets to more students than they were ultimately able to admit to the party. Berkeley SAC Chair Estefany Delgado ’12 said in an e-mail that there was a small wait to get into the event, but the screw was a success. The BKCC sent an e-mail Nov. 8 offering to refund the tickets of students who could not partake in the dance.

Capacity violations can be punished by a fine of up to approximately $1,000, Cappucci said, adding that he writes to the Liquor Control Commission to notify the state of repeat offenders.

New Haven Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 said capacity limits are determined by the state of Connecticut, not by New Haven, but the city must enforce them.

Cappucci said his staff is required to raid businesses at least once a year to make sure they are adhering to capacity and other regulations, but most checks he conducts are complaint-driven. Because of Operation Nightlife — Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s initiative to curb violence downtown — he now holds six to eight raids per week, he said.

Brian Phelps, owner of Toad’s Place, said his club’s capacity is currently being reassessed in light of additions to the building. The current occupancy, which was determined at the club’s opening, is between 700 and 750, he added.

Phelps said his staff monitors the head count at all of their events, but does not usually have a problem with capacity, because Yale students typically arrive at the club when the students of other colleges such as Quinnipiac are leaving. Toad’s was last raided in late September or early October, he said.

Lauren Kendzierski, owner of the restaurant and bar Bespoke, said her business is always careful to adhere to the 50-person capacity in its lounge area and that to disregard this limit would cause a serious safety concern.

The Saybrook College Screw will be held on Dec. 1 in the Omni Hotel.

Sam Greenberg, Alon Harish and Everett Rosenfeld contributed reporting.

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