WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The fight over who will operate and manage the historic and publicly funded Sunset Lounge in West Palm Beach landed in a courtroom and a trial Thursday.
The city last year disqualified the group originally selected by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) board to run the venue over alleged lobbying violations.
Vita Lounge LLC filed suit last summer claiming the CRA "improperly and unlawfully" disqualified them for an interview, Facebook posts and emails, which urged members of the community to show up at a selection meeting.
The vice president of Vita Lounge LLC, Darrin Cummings, took the stand Thursday and testified that they did not violate city lobbying provisions.
The city claimed Vita Lounge LLC violated no lobbying provisions when a member of the Sunset Community Group, which Cummings is associated with, elicited members of the community to send emails to the city commission inbox prior to the commission's selection.
The CRA also disqualified another bidder over alleged lobbying violations. That group claims they were "improperly disqualified by a technicality."
Entertainers like Ella Fitzgerald once graced the stage at the Sunset Lounge dating back to the 1940s and 1950s, which made it a "premier African American entertainment" venue at a time of racial segregation.
The CRA's nearly $20 million revitalization of the historic venue in the city's Northwest Community currently sits empty and without an operator, costing the CRA an estimated $13,000 a month.
A city spokesperson told Contact 5 that the mayor's office does not provide comment during active litigation.
The trial is expected to continue Friday.