Phase 54 Remaining Open for Business Despite Court Order Mandating Its Closure

The owners and employees of Phase 54 got a big-time bombshell dropped on them last Thursday in the form of an injunction from Maricopa County Superior Court dictating that the Chandler bar, club and music venue would have to close.

While many business owners would lock their doors and appeal the decision, the Phase 54 folks apparently have a different strategy altogether: They've decided to ignore the court's decision.

As of this weekend, Phase 54 is still open to the public and the employees I spoke with over the weekend told me there are no plans to shut down. Oh yeah, and they may have never officially received the court order in the first place.

It's just the latest wrinkle in the rancorous legal battle that the Phase 54 has been fighting over the past for months with some of its neighboring businesses that are seeking to have the place closed. It's been a dramatic summer of conflict punctuated with allegations of racism.

Here's the story in a nutshell: Recording engineer Jon Harris moved Phase 54 from its old location in Tempe to its home new location at the Chandler Gateway West plaza near I-10 and Ray Road earlier this year. After dropping more than $1 million to renovate the property (which formerly operated as a Terri's Consign and Design location), Harris debuted the new-and-improved Phase 54 in May.

A few weeks before, however, a number of nearby restaurants and businesses (including Carraba's, Outback Steakhouse, and Charleston's) filed suit in superior court to have it shut down. Their contention was that the establishment was in violation of the "covenants, conditions and restrictions" of the shopping center by serving alcohol and functioning as a nightclub, as well as the fact there's an insufficient parking situation at the plaza. The East Valley Tribune also reported that representatives of the restaurant also took issue with Phase 54 potentially hosting "nude, semi-nude, or body painting entertainment, strip show, or any entertainment which is a public or private nuisance."

Phase 54 owner Jon Harris countered that his place is considered to be concert hall and music venue and that there's adequate parking at the shopping center. Furthermore, he alleges that the lawsuit may have been racially motivated, as his venue has a significant African-American clientele. (A weekly hip-hop night Faze Fridays is also held at the venue and DJs spin Top 40 on other nights).

Harris reportedly also had a recording of an employee of one of his neighboring businesses discussing their concerns about "the blacks" at Phase 54. Civil rights activist Reverend Jarrett Maupin weighed in on the issue and made noises about staging boycotts of business in question. Superior Court Judge J. Richard Gama refused to admit a transcript of the recording into evidence during the course of the civil trial and ultimately issued an injunction on Thursday mandating that the venue had to close.

There's only one problem, however: The employees of Phase 54 say that neither Jon Harris nor anyone else at the notified about the court order and only learned about it by reading an Arizona Republic online article about the situation.

Prior to the decision, Harris seemed to believe his side would win, as evidenced by a story that ran in the Tribune in May: "I'm hoping the outcome will be that our use will be allowed," Harris told the Trib. "I hope that we will prevail in this case or that we can come together and make an agreement and dismiss this case so everybody can save money."

Events have also been booked and promoted at the venue through the middle of next month. (Heck,I even gave Faze Fridays a write up in this week's issue) According to one employee I spoke with, these events will happen as they're planning on keeping things going at the venue. (True to their word, there was music coming from Phase 54 all weekend.)

"We're planning on staying open and doing business as usual until they make us close," he says.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.