- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Omaha City Council has invoked what’s called its “good neighbor ordinance” to punish an Old Market district nightspot that nearby businesses and the police say has become a neighborhood headache.

The council effectively closed down Maria Sangria on Tuesday by revoking its certificate of occupancy and voting to cancel its liquor license. Police officials told the council about several problems at Maria Sangria, saying it attracted crowds of people who got into fights, caused other disturbances, bothered neighboring restaurants and shops, and cost the police department big chunks of overtime.

It marked the first time the council invoked the new ordinance, which neighborhood groups had sought to combat liquor-licensed establishments that become nuisances.

Defenders of Maria Sangria, including the Nebraska Black Chamber of Commerce and the son of the restaurant’s owner, told the council that police can’t prove the troublemakers were patrons of the nightspot and that the complaints were overblown.

“Maria Sangria has had no shootings, stabbings or ambulances in the area,” said Nick Scalise, whose mother, Maria Scalise, owns the restaurant.

She told the council that her dream and her money “go through the window because a lot of people have some kind of problem with me. Police, we never called the police.”

The chamber representative and Nick Scalise also suggested that the city targeted the venue because most of its customers are black or Latino.

Council members Ben Gray and Chris Jerram said the complaints were not rooted in racism.

“This American dream has turned into an Old Market nightmare, and we have to do something about it,” Jerram said to Maria Scalise. “This place is out of control, and you’re not a good neighbor.”

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