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Omni owner blames city for club closure

Provo officials deny they killed dance business

PROVO — At the end of the movie "Footloose," glittering confetti falls from the rafters as high school kids break into dance.

The scrappy hero, dressed in a tux, has finally triumphed over the leaders in the small town that banned dancing before his arrival. He boogies all night in celebration.

Not far from the town where this scene was filmed, a similar saga concluded earlier this month, but with a different ending. Provo's only dance club, Club Omni, shut its doors March 1 after nearly 10 years of operation.

The club's owner says the city's straight-laced leaders drove him out of town — a charge city officials vehemently deny. They say he simply went out of business.

"My friends thought I would go out in a blaze of glory, but I'm leaving quietly," Ken Merena told the Deseret News. "I have hoisted the white flag and they have won."

No confetti fell on March 1 at Club Omni. Judging by attendance that night, most people in Provo didn't care the nightclub was closing.

Omni's attendance had dropped from more than 2,000 a night in 1996 to 50 or so in its final month. Merena quietly closed the club. "Yeah, we closed down ultimately because of no business, but why was there no business?" Merena said.

"It's not arguable that absent the city's actions I would still be in business."

Provo city leaders say such claims are ridiculous.

"Obviously, Mr. Merena is frustrated, and we are sorry his business has failed," said Mike Mower, spokesman for Provo Mayor Lewis K. Billings. "We do not agree and haven't agreed in the past with his characterizations and allegations of what has taken place."

Since 1998, Merena has been charged with nine criminal violations related to his management of Club Omni, 153 W. Center. The charges range from an alleged assault in which Merena reportedly pushed a patron against a brick wall to an incident in 1998 in which Merena allegedly sold beer after hours.

Merena says the charges are bogus and are part of an orchestrated effort to shut him down. For example, on the night officers say he sold beer after hours, Merena says he was out of town.

"Common sense tells you any citizen being charged with this many violations over a two-year period is being harassed," Merena said. "All of these charges are unmitigated baloney, but you've got to defend every one of them."