Westcor Weenies

If Biltmore Fashion Park's lookin' paler than normal — whiter even than the line at a NASCAR concession stand — this bilious blackbird can tell ya why. Seems the swank, Vegasy restaurant-bar-nightclub io, which catered mostly to an upscale African-American crowd, has been kicked to the curb by AZ mall mega-corp Westcor, a subsidiary of the publicly traded real estate giant Macerich, which boasts properties from coast to coast.

The spacious io, with its three bars, dance floor, and luxurious VIP mezzanine, opened for business late in 2005 with a lease runnin' 'til '09. But because the east end of the Biltmore's open-air mall was expected to come down eventually for remodeling in late '07, the lease included a clause allowing landlord Westcor to give io 60 days' notice whenever it deemed fit. Io's neighbors have this clause, too, but io's gettin' the extra-early heave-ho. New Year's Eve was io's last night.

According to white-boy io co-owners David Landreville and Tom Pomeroy, the club's being shown the door because of the color of its clientele, which they estimate to be 65 to 70 percent black on given nights. As io's having to close before expected, the partners are lookin' at a million-dollar loss. And they're alleging discrimination on Westcor's part.

"We're not the type of business Westcor wants," Big Daddy Pomeroy told this cranky cockatiel. "It doesn't blend well with the other businesses. In our first meeting with them, they actually asked us, 'How are you going to handle the blacks?'"

According to both Pomeroy, whose PHX insurance business Pomeroy & Pomeroy is a multimillion-dollar concern, and Landreville, who's run restaurants and clubs in the Valley for years, this Jim Crow-like comment and other such remarks came from two Westcor execs, neither of whom was available for comment because they were both said to be on vacation the week following io's demise.

However, The Bird was able to get hold of Bill Whiteside (yep, that's his real name), Westcor's VP of property management. Whiteside hotly rejected the accusation by io's owners that they're being treated differently because their customers tended to be darker than much of the Biltmore's shopping center clientele. He also denied that any Westcor muck-a-mucks made, er, off-color statements.

Whiteside insisted that io'd drawn complaints from neighbors for noise and other reasons. And he claimed io was operating in violation of its lease because it was doing business as a club rather than a restaurant, which Whiteside said io was supposed to be, according to the lease agreement.

"A restaurant is not a club, and a club is not a restaurant," Whiteside screeched to this scurrilous snipe. "They charged admission. You don't charge admission to restaurants. You charge admission to clubs. When it turned into a club, it was no longer a use that was acceptable to the lease they signed."

Regarding noise, this garrulous gull frequented io on several occasions and never heard music outside of io's doors. And io only charged a cover in the evenings, like with Saturday's Million Dollar Mingle, which drew a well-heeled urban crowd, as caught recently by New Times' own paparazzi princess Lilia Menconi in her Club Candids gallery ("Puttin' On the Urban Ritz," December 28, 2006). During the day, io served lunch, like any other eatery, no cover necessary.

Landreville retorted that Westcor knew io would be operating as a club, which is why io was allowed to stay open 'til 2 a.m., past regular mall hours. Also, Landreville provided this popinjay with a copy of io's lease, which specifically states that "the premises may be used for catering, live and recorded musical entertainment and dancing by customers at the premises."

To be fair, however, the lease lists io's "permitted use" as being "for the operation of a sit-down restaurant and bar," though the references to live music and dancing seem to imply that Westcor knew io was to be more than just a grub shack. Furthermore, the lease-approved menu indicates no dinner entrees, just "small plates," as is often the case in clubland.

If Westcor believed io was to be just a restaurant, why didn't it inquire as to its dinner menu from jump? And why did Westcor even allow dancing and music? Finally, the Biltmore listed details of io parties on its online calendar of events, so Westcor was well aware of io's activities.

Whiteside whined that io's late-night parties continued into the parking lot, but Landreville told this garrulous goose that io hired off-duty PHX police officers to make sure people moved along. PHX PIO Detective Bob Ragsdale found only eight calls for service from io to which Phoenix PD responded during io's year-plus in business, and of those only three were serious enough to merit written reports. This is the sort of nearly-whistle-clean record most nightclubs would love to have.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons