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Published: Wednesday, 6/15/2005

Club owner raises bar on downtown s night life

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ahmed Dia, owner of nightclubs on Jefferson Avenue, is building an entertainment district to attract people downtown.
Ahmed Dia, owner of nightclubs on Jefferson Avenue, is building an entertainment district to attract people downtown.
ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge

Ahmed Dia has high hopes, infectious enthusiasm, and a nonstop mouth that bellows out why his hometown of Toledo should prosper.

And why he and his company, CBD Entertainment, will soon establish a veritable entertainment empire on Jefferson Avenue in downtown Toledo the core of a nightlife district they hope will pull in patrons from the suburbs and keep people downtown after work.

We re trying to build an entertainment district, said Mr. Dia, president and owner of CBD, which will soon own a half-dozen clubs and live music venues in the heart of downtown.

We re doing something nobody in the city does spend money. We re trying our hardest to do anything to hype up this city once you say this city is our city, then attitudes change.

CBD s other investors include Mr. Dia s brother, Tony; Justin Lorenzen, and John Roumya.

Come this weekend, Mr. Dia and his company will add two bars to the three he already co-owns all on the same block of Jefferson between Superior and Huron streets.

A sixth bar will open in the same block next month.

The three new bars two of them hunkered under the Commodore Perry residential building will create what Mr. Dia hopes to call The Block smack in the middle of a dozen or so bars and night clubs surrounding Fifth Third Field and SeaGate Convention Centre.

At the north end sits Mr. Dia s first downtown venture, Club Rain, which opened 2 years ago and now boasts long lines on weekends. Just last year, two other live music venues Barcode and Fuze, also belonging to Mr. Dia s group opened right next door. The three feature the sounds of hip-top, trip-hop, and underground blends.

This weekend, Mr. Dia will broaden the playlist with blues and a quieter touch. Ice Bar will sport black, white, and (of course) blue murals of famous blues singers, while in the back, Margarita Rocks will be a high-end venue with a less-rowdy atmosphere. A sixth bar will be the Shadow Lounge.

Nobody gives straight answers about Shadow Lounge, or what exactly it will be. It ll be legal is all Mr. Dia will give up, while others hint it will be an exclusive club for favored patrons of the Jefferson Avenue scene.

Mr. Dia believes his efforts will catalyze a chain-reaction of investment touch-ups from other bar owners in the area.

They ll start spending money if they see you spending money, he said. It takes more than one person.

There are other attempts to tie all the bars together, to create some much-needed foot traffic essential for favorable word of mouth in a downtown area at war with its reputation for being deserted come dusk.

You know and I know that for a number of years at five o clock, there was nobody downtown. Now there s the Mud Hens, residents, there s people at night, said Pete Gozza, president of Downtown Toledo Inc.

Several club owners in the area have teamed up Thursday nights to offer one cover charge for five separate clubs, including Mr. Dia s three currently operating bars; Club Bijou and Eclipse around the corner on Superior Street, and The Emporium, several blocks west.

Mr. Dia hopes to consolidate his clubs cover charges several times a week as well.

The space at the base of the Commodore Perry has gone through a few bad turns in recent years: Shortly after Banana Joe s later known as The Jungle opened there in October, 2000, problems began: liquor violations, two stabbed bouncers, and drunks roaming the halls of upstairs residential areas. The Jungle closed in 2003, owing thousands in back rent.

But CBD s crop of investors say there won t be a repeat: Part of CBD s $500,000 in renovations includes extensive exterior lighting, a network of security cameras for each bar, and a 30-strong security force on the busiest nights.

Margarita Rocks won t cater to the dance crowd, said Rob Atkin, general manager.

We re going for the 26 to 40 crowd, which has pretty much been over-looked downtown, Mr. Atkin said. The music won t be earth-shatteringly loud. We want people to be able to relax and talk.

Somewhere where you d bring your husband or wife, couples hanging out with couples. Ice Bar will be more of a lounge, more acoustic.

Mr. Gozza sees the transformation of the block as key to giving new residents in the area something to do: With the Bartley Lofts condo complex, several blocks away, scheduling move-ins for July and August, and residents living in the Commodore Perry and LaSalle Apartments, It is now a neighborhood, he said.

As far as noise and safety issues, As long as people take that [neighborhood] into consideration, I m sure everything will be fine.

As part of the older crowd, I certainly wouldn t mind a different venue it s what you want, he added.

Mr. Dia said he has an advantage over past owners: He lives in the Birmingham neighborhood of East Toledo.

The [past owners] milked it they got a return on their investment, took their money, and then left, He said. After an initial investment, they never updated their venue or spent more money on marketing. With advertising, everybody gets greedy.

But because Mr. Dia is a To ledoan rather than an out-of-towner, he says he will continue to invest and keep up with the shifting of styles and trends.

Though bars wanting to open in city-created entertainment districts are eligible to apply for cheaper state liquor licenses through the state, Mr. Dia s group opted not to.

They take about twice as long to get as a regular license, and we wanted to act now, he said.

Margarita Rocks and Ice Bar will open at 5 p.m. Friday.

Contact Tad Vezner at:tvezner@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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