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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Aragon Ballroom To Return as Banquet Center; Residents Fear It'll Become "The Next Moda"

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2015 at 9:21 AM

In neighborhood development news, a Board of Zoning Appeals hearing regarding plans to reopen the Aragon Ballroom on West 25th Street as a conference and banquet center has been postponed until May 11.

After a heated community meeting earlier this month, City Councilman Brian Cummins and local development leaders wanted more time to address residents’ concerns.

For background: local businessman Ali Faraj (by all accounts, an absolute prince of a guy), bought the Aragon on the cheap a few years back, just before it was condemned by the city. The illustrious dance hall actually opened as roller rink in 1905 and wasn’t christened the Aragon Ballroom until 1937. For the next fifty years, it was #boogiecentral.

Faraj, who already owns a banquet center in Brook Park, and who’s hip to the West 25th St. corridor revival, sees potential for corporate lunches and weekend weddings in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood (with the heart of Ohio City to the immediate north and artsy Tremont to the east). Barring unexpected delay, Faraj intends to open later this year.

But nearby residents are up in arms. The stretch of West 25th St. between Ohio City and Old Brooklyn isn’t what most visitors would call “family friendly.” And a history of drugs and violence (stemming in many cases from shady establishments with liquor licences) have hardened locals to the sinister specter of “new development,” in particular, the booze-related sort.   

The two primary issues posed at community meetings thus far — and Stockyard, Clark-Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Development Corporation’s (SCFBC) Economic Development director Adam Stalder says it’s tough to gauge true community response based on public meetings: “No one who supports the project shows up,” he told Scene — is the parking situation and, predictably, the liquor license.

“The concerns are perfectly understandable,” Stalder said. “I think the residents want some assurances that this won’t turn into a crazy bar. The difference is that this time, we’ve got an owner who owns banquet centers, who has poured a lot of money into this project, and who is going to do things right.”

Faraj, who fielded questions at the community meeting earlier this month, agreed to provide his cell phone number to any resident in the immediate vicinity to signal his willingness to be responsive to their concerns.

Still, a banquet center with a capacity of 800 — Faraj already agreed to reduce it from 1,200 — and an estimated 10 events per year that may not wrap up until 2:30 a.m. have a vocal contingent worried. Community leaders and Faraj, though, have been clear that this will not be “the next Moda.”

Even opponents have said their problem is not with Faraj himself. They’re concerned that with the zoning variances in place, if Faraj were to abandon the project, say, in five years, an operator with less noble intentions might step in.

For now, Faraj, Councilman Brian Cummins and development people will meet with block clubs and conflicted residents until the May 11 BZA hearing, hoping to assuage as many fears as they can. (Faraj has already agreed to pay for complimentary valet parking, for example, and has negotiated a lease with CMSD to use the Lincoln-West High School parking lot for evening events).  

“These old buildings are always tough, and these conversations are going to happen a lot,” Stalder said. “But ultimately I think this will work out and will really improve West 25th St.” 

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