Element to open card tables in February

Jose Fuente, center, won his first Texas Hold’em game during Bayside’s mentor tournament Thursday evening. Serafin Baysn, left, also played in the tournament. Dealer Jack Hooker will continue to deal at the tables after their move to Element Nightclub on Bayshore Drive. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Jose Fuente, center, won his first Texas Hold’em game during Bayside’s mentor tournament Thursday evening. Serafin Baysn, left, also played in the tournament. Dealer Jack Hooker will continue to deal at the tables after their move to Element Nightclub on Bayshore Drive.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

It’s a club, it’s a sports bar, it’s a casino ... no, it’s Element, the ever-evolving evening hangout frequented by Oak Harbor’s twenty and thirty-something crowd.

Mike Kummerfeldt, owner of Element Nightclub, cleared the last in a series of bureaucratic hurdles to obtain a card table license from the city of Oak Harbor.

“I think that you’re going to find that the noise is going to dramatically decrease,” he told City Council members Tuesday during the quasi-judicial hearing.

City members gave Kummerfeldt their blessing by unanimously approving his license application.

Now that the paperwork is done, the heavy lifting can begin. On Jan. 25 at 4 a.m. Bayside Lounge will close its doors for the last time, and the casino tables will be moved a few blocks to Element Nightclub.

Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 1 will mark the the first day to play cards at Element. Doors will open at 2 p.m., said Kummerfeldt. The club will hold a grand opening of the card room at a later date.

Leading up to approval of the license, council partook in more than 45 minutes of public comment and discussion.

The addition of card tables is anther step toward a better image, Kummerfeldt said.

The club endured a series of growing pains since it first opened for business in January 2007, and, Kummerfeldt admits, the club did not make a positive first impression.

In the first month, an accidental shooting occurred in the parking lot, a liquor license violation closed the club for nine days in November, and the police department received a slew of noise complaints related to the club in 2008 (66 from January through September).

“I’m trying to change the entire scope of the business,” Kummerfeldt told the crowd in the council chambers. “I don’t want to be the bad neighbor.”

The two poker and six pit game tables should draw an older, more mature crowd, he said, adding that the extended hours will decrease the early-morning parking lot noise.

Instead of pushing the crowd out of the building at 2 a.m., as was the case before the card table license was granted, the extended hours will allow for a “cool down” period where patrons can order food or play cards while they wait for a taxi ride, instead of loitering in the parking lot.

“There’s no real issue or fact that the police department can bring you that would lead to the disapproval of this request,” Oak Harbor Police Chief Rick Wallace said, noting that the Public Safety Standing Committee meeting held Jan. 15 resulted in recommending the mayor’s approval of the card table license.

At the Jan. 20 hearing before city council members, Wallace reiterated that “there are no reports on the record that relate to a violation in the gambling license.”

“Now, I’m not endorsing this plan as a cure to their problems,” Wallace said, referring to the numerous noise complaints against the club. “I’m neutral.”

Mayor Jim Slowik was careful to keep the issues surrounding the nightclub and card table license separate.

“All we’re talking about today is a card table license,” he reminded council following Gray Giordan’s comments about noise complaints. Giordan, a resident of Waterside Condos, a community located directly across from the nightclub, has been a vocal force against the nightclub.

“We’re still getting woken up almost every weekend,” he said.

Billie Cook also added her two-cents to the public comment forum, objecting to the Element’s increased hours of operation, a stipulation in the card table license.

“The city doesn’t care about us anymore,” she told council members.

“The card table action has fewer barking dogs than the Element has,” Councilman Rick Almberg said of the seeming lack of opposition to the licensing decision in comparison to nightclub-related issues.

Kummerfeldt said he will continue to reduce noise from his club. The young entrepreneur met with police department officials Thursday to discuss the conditions of his nightclub license.

The city issued temporary licenses to all Oak Harbor nightclubs in January following council’s move to modernize an outdated cabaret license from the 1970s. The new licensing process calls for a background check of the applicant, a police investigation of the establishment and a public hearing, which requires additional time and resources to compile.

The police department hopes to complete the process and issue permanent nightclub licenses in March, said Wallace.

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