On August 4, a Thursday, the Liquor Control Board of Review held a hearing that lasted nine hours. The parade of witnesses tested the stamina of the court reporter. Late in the afternoon, she used lulls in the testimony to stretch and to shake the tension out of her arms and hands.
The daylong hearing was dedicated to the liquor license of Xpressions, a nightclub on the north end of downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Xpressions is the third establishment to operate at 220 Admiral Boulevard. The previous iterations — clubs named NV and NRG — were notorious for shootings, fights and other assorted mayhem.
The owner of the building, a man named Del Hedgepath, ran NV and NRG. Under pressure from the city's Regulated Industries Division, he sold the ground-floor bar to a young couple with more enthusiasm than experience. When the business opened as Xpressions in late December, the calls for squad cars and ambulances resumed. "This club is one that we go to pretty much all the time," a Kansas City police sergeant testified at the August 4 hearing.
Eric and Natasha Union, the couple who bought the club from Hedgepath, were notified in March that Xpressions had flunked its probationary period. The notice arrived shortly after a 19-year-old man was shot and killed in a parking lot several blocks from the club. A city official would later describe the homicide as having been "initiated" at Xpressions.
Carol Coe, a former councilwoman advising the Unions, acknowledges that NV and NRG were scourges. "The police have been tortured by that Del Hedgepath," she tells The Pitch.
The Unions say they are being unfairly made to answer for the destructive and unlawful activity that took place when the business was in Hedgepath's name. At the hearing, they described the measures that they had taken to monitor and shape the behavior inside, and in the immediate vicinity of, Xpressions. The club, for instance, began admitting only those 25 and older on Saturday nights. Eric Union said he doesn't play "hood stuff" when he takes a turn in the DJ booth.
But no amount of slow jams will appease those who own property and rent apartments near Admiral and McGee. Weary from their battles with Hedgepath, the neighbors did not welcome the arrival of another establishment with a vowel-deprived name. In their minds, the location continues to be synonymous with noise, vomit and the occasional spray of gunfire. "I would never advise anyone to live where I live," a young father of two, who lives near the club, said at the liquor board hearing.
In a way, it was fitting that the hearing turned into a nine-hour, no-break-for-lunch grind. The city's effort to regulate the flow of alcohol at 220 Admiral has been full of complications. Elected officials have gotten involved. A lawsuit was filed. An R. Kelly appearance in Kansas City has even figured into the narrative.
Velvet ropes were set up outside the club last weekend. But the party may finally be coming to an end.
In 1997, The Kansas City Star featured Del Hedgepath in a story about "ordinary" millionaires. The story described how Hedgepath mowed his own yard and paid $9 for haircuts, in spite of his $1 million net worth.
Hedgepath, a self-taught businessman, whose formal education topped out with some coursework at Johnson County Community College, began buying real estate when he was in his early 20s. His first purchase, according to the Star article, was a house in McLouth, Kansas, his hometown.
Now 47, Hedgepath bought the three-story brick building at 220 Admiral in 2003. He converted the upper two floors into apartments. (The Buick Lofts, as they're known, pay homage to the building's past life as a car dealership.) He transformed the first floor into a club that he called NV.