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Stinger's Sports Pub & Grill closes

July 11, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

BOONSBORO - Stinger's Sports Pub & Grill has closed, and former owner John Ambrose cited a drastic cut in the allowed occupancy as the reason.

In March, the State Fire Marshal restricted the number of people allowed in the arena to 99, instead of the 750 people that had been allowed since the Boonsboro business opened in 2004.

The occupancy of the restaurant and upstairs sports bar each were changed from 100 to 49, Ambrose said.

The fire marshal cited fire safety concerns when making the changes, and said the business was a dangerous place for so many people, mainly because the building lacks a fire sprinkler system.

"I couldn't afford to, No. 1, to run it at the operational level that it was, or take the shot at putting 49 people in the dining room that held 100," Ambrose said. "They made it very clear that it was a criminal offense if it was over capacity ... including prison time."

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On July 2, Ambrose said he turned Stinger's over to his partner Allen Hewett.

"There's no business going on at Stinger's," Ambrose said.

The occupancy restrictions followed years of requests that the business be outfitted with a sprinkler system, according to Allen Gosnell, former deputy chief state fire marshal for the western region.

Gosnell was replaced in March by Jason Mowbray.

"I could not risk 750 people in that dangerous environment," Gosnell said. "I was just very uncomfortable. The way it's constructed ... hundreds of people could not exit that area in an emergency."

Fire marshals were told that the water for a sprinkler system could not be provided, Gosnell said. Ambrose said he had been waiting since 2005 for enough water to accommodate a sprinkler system, with involvement from town and state officials.

"We kind of lived with that for a while because we don't like to hurt small businesses," Gosnell said.

Ambrose said it would not have been possible financially for him to install a $200,000 water tower and necessary equipment.

"When they issued our permit to open, they were aware (of the sprinkler issue)," he said. "They allowed us to open and then kind of walked away from it."

Ambrose said he recently learned that the necessary water would be available, but not until at least May 2008.

Gosnell said, that based on the law, he could have let the business continue with previous occupancy numbers while still requesting that a sprinkler system be installed. But having seen no movement on that request in the past several years, Gosnell said he had no reason to believe it would be installed in a timely manner.

"They're saying, 'You're going to put me out of business,'" Gosnell said. "But do we risk hundreds of lives to keep one guy's business afloat?"

Ambrose filed an appeal to the new occupancy restrictions last month, but said he recently dropped the appeal after realizing he could not overcome the fire marshal's decision. That appeal before the Fire Prevention Commission was scheduled to be heard Aug. 11.

Mowbray said Ambrose was first denied an appeal through an internal procedure through the State Fire Marshal's Office.

"So, the law permits them to make a public appeal to the State Fire Prevention Commission," he said.

Ambrose filed an injunction last month to maintain previous occupancy numbers for a last concert at Stinger's.

That hearing was June 29, and Ambrose said the business was allowed a special exception to have capacity increased to 299 people for an event the next day. He said he was required to have a fire truck on standby and adhere to other requirements as part of the agreement.

Ambrose said he heard rumors for months that his business was going to be shut down.

"How can they just cut your legs out from under you?" he asked. "I worked so hard for three years to try to build a business."

Gosnell said that he believes that if there been a fire, people would have died.

"I really believe that we saved, probably saved, several hundred lives," he said.

Ambrose said he had concerts at Stinger's that drew as many as 750 people. There was never an incident when his customers were in danger, he said.

"The saddest thing is they not only closed Stinger's down, but a lot of great people lost their jobs," he said.

The business employed about 40 people, he said.

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