Jeramey Jannene

Third Ward Nightclub Surrenders License Before Revocation Hearing

SITE closes following shooting.

By - Jan 21st, 2021 03:08 pm
SITE, 231 E. Buffalo St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

SITE, 231 E. Buffalo St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The owner of a Historic Third Ward nightclub, SITE, surrendered the licenses associated with the business this week before the Common Council could hold a hearing to revoke them.

SITE, best known for hosting electronic dance music (EDM) acts, was the scene of a fight in December that resulted in a murder just outside its doors. The bar, with owner Aaron Ohlsson present, was open and serving after the state’s legal closing time.

A police report, based in part on security camera footage, says Ohlsson discussed the victim’s behavior with Caesar Fuentes, the accused shooter, before Fuentes went outside and shot Andre Nicholson six times. Fuentes, prior to the shooting, placed a handgun on the bar.

“I f*cking gave you a chance to beat sh!t out of that dude,” says Ohlsson on the video according to a city report.

A fight between Nicholson, 24, and Fuentes, 23, started over whose high school basketball team was better according to witness testimony in the report. The shooting occurred at approximately 3:30 a.m. on December 6th. Nicholson was previously thrown out of the bar for punching Fuentes.

Neither Ohlsson, nor the bar’s security team called the police after Fuentes placed the gun, with an “extended firearm magazine,” on the bar.

Fuentes, who turned himself into police hours after the incident, has been charged with first-degree reckless homicide with use of a dangerous weapon. He has pled not guilty to the charge and is represented by attorney Michael Hart. A bail hearing is scheduled for January 22nd.

As a result of the incident, the Milwaukee Police Department was recommending the license be revoked and the Milwaukee Common Council scheduled a special Licenses Committee meeting for Thursday morning to possibly advance the revocation. That meeting was canceled after Ohlsson, 31, surrendered the licenses.

“Well it’s about time,” said Alderman Robert Bauman of the closure. “The most recent events clearly indicated the most recent operator had no regard for the law, the rules, the pandemic or the safety of his patrons.”

Before surrendering the licenses, SITE, 231 E. Buffalo St., hosted a “Send Off” branded event. “Half off everything” reads a promotion for an event on Sunday, January 17th.

A series of vigils and protests were held outside the bar, with The Peoples Revolution and others charging that Nicholson’s murder was a racially-motivated hate crime. Nicholson, an African American, was called the N-word multiple times by Fuentes, a witness told police.

Michael-Bryan Byers-Dent was the lone minority owner in the business according to a liquor license. Byers-Dent, a 20% stakeholder, and Ohlsson owned the business through Copper Penguin Management Group, LLC.

A letter from attorney Emil Ovbiagele says Copper Penguin decided to surrender the licenses Wednesday “after careful consideration in light of the hearing set for the revocation of the licenses.”

The shooting wasn’t the only incident to draw the ire of the city officials. The council gave the venue, known as Site 1A before a name change, a 20-day suspension in September when its license was renewed. Neighbors had repeatedly raised concerns with noise and Ohlsson admitted to hosting a party in May in violation of city restrictions.

SITE did have a city-approved COVID-19 safety plan and was closed for much of 2020. It had a pre-pandemic 250-person capacity, according to the Department of Neighborhood Services.

Surrendering the business licenses prevents reopening, or a transfer of ownership, without a public hearing and new application. It also prevents the city from formally revoking the license, a move that could imperil another license Ohlsson holds.

Ohlsson continues to own the Miramar Theatre at 2844 N. Oakland Ave. That business, a music venue with a liquor license, received an allocation of $40,356 from the state’s venue relief grant fund on December 3rd. A liquor license says Ohlsson is the sole owner. Ohlsson also owns the EDM music promotion business Brew City Bass.

SITE is one in a series of bars that have operated on the first floor of the five-story building. Soho 7 opened in 2008 and closed in 2010, BTW Lounge opened in 2011 and closed a year later and Oak Lounge opened in 2012 and morphed into Site 1A in 2016.

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