After a single phone call, an after hours night club in the Capital City was shut down.
The Sahara has been an alcohol-free hangout spot for 18- to 20-year-olds for the past 10 years.
The owner, Ivan Makuve, says he feels singled out and wishes he had heard from the Mayor of Bismarck, personally.
The Sahara has been operating in vacant spaces in the Gateway Mall for the past decade, most recently in the old Sears store.
The beginning of the end started early on a September Sunday morning. An assault in the Gateway Mall parking lot left a 20-year-old man unconscious with a head injury.
“I was actually there. I was the DJ for the night,” Makuve shared. “We do not believe they were patrons of the Sahara because, I mean, we didn’t even see the guys come in.”
We spoke with Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken about that night and what happened afterward.
He said, “The owner of the property, his landlord, pulled his lease…not as a request from this office.”
Makuve stresses that he’s been working closely with the Bismarck Police Department for years to keep the club secure.
“Altercations are not really a common occurrence. There’s no bar that doesn’t have altercations. We are no different from any of those bars,” he added.
Mayor Bakken did not deny that but says, unfortunately, this situation comes down to location.
“Where it’s a little bit different is the fact that it’s in a residential– it’s on the edge of a residential neighborhood. Who wants to raise their family with police lights once a week across the street…” he explained.
When asked if police activity outside the club was really that common, he said, “That was the complaint I was getting from neighbors.”
Makuve says he feels his landlord, who didn’t wish to be named, felt pressure to do something after the Mayor’s phone call, and shutting it down was all he could do. But the owner of the Sahara just wanted to hear it from the Mayor himself. He thinks they could have worked out a solution.
“It’s baffled me a little bit on that because I don’t see any reason why,” he told KX News.
“People in his circle would’ve had my phone number, so I believe he just didn’t put the effort to look for my phone number.”
We asked the Mayor if it’s typical for him to go straight to a landlord. We found Makuve’s phone number pretty easily on his business Facebook page.
“I have a relationship with the owner of the mall property, so if I had a relationship with Ivan or the manager of the mall, that would have been the first call I made,” Mayor Bakken explained.
“Frankly I was just reaching out for: Do you know the business? Do you have a phone number for the business? Who owns the business? Who operates the business? Can I get that information so I can make that my next step?”
We asked if Makuve will be his contact moving forward. The Mayor said, “Yes.”
Mayor Bakken and Makuve did finally have that conversation, and a promise was made by the Mayor to sit down with the business owner within the next couple of weeks.
“As far as the business being shut down, I’m hoping this is just a pause and that in some iteration, it can continue moving forward,” the Mayor elaborated.
“We are holding him to it,” Makuve said. “…because he caused the problem and he needs to fix it.”
Mayor Bakken says he loves the idea of having an alcohol free after-hours club in the city. He told us, maybe the process of handling the situation was a bit clumsy and wants to help where he can.
Makuve says he wants to work with the Mayor to re-open, but is not confident in the process.