Toad's Place Goes Dark 

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Margaret Freund -- owner of the Lady Byrd Hat Company building, which houses the Canal Walk music venue Toad's Place and an attached restaurant -- along with officers from the Richmond Police Department, changed the locks on the building early on the morning of March 9 as part of an eviction of the club's current management.

It's not clear if the club will be open for motor-mouthed rapper Busta Rhymes' scheduled performance March 13. Signs posted in the club's windows say the tenants were evicted for falling behind on their rent.

A sign on the door, posted by the building property managers Kiniry and Co., sites “continued serious default on rental payment and other obligation under the Jan. 18, 2006 … lease agreement.”

Representatives for Freund's management company, Fulton Hill Properties, along with Kiniry and Co., decline to comment on the story, as does Toad's Place co-owner Meredith Joyner. Some Toad's Place employees say the news took them by surprise. The club's concert schedule is still running in Style Weekly this week.

The interruption marks the latest in a series of black eyes for Freund, the prodigious downtown developer whose projects have included Bottom's Up Pizza, which had to fight its way back after the flood caused by Hurricane Gaston; Relish, a popular gourmet food court which recently closed; and a condominium development in Church Hill, Oakwood Heights, that won approval from City Council this month over vocal protest. In September, the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP accused Toad's Place of discrimination after it canceled some events set up by private promoters.

The most recent spot of negative attention came on Feb. 19, when Mayor Dwight C. Jones held a meeting with Shockoe Bottom merchants to allay concern after police issued a mayday call Feb. 7 when a fight broke out at the club.

Shortly after that, the club attempted to change directions by taking on new management. David Bess, owner of Verbena, Cha Cha's Cantina and Lucky Buddha, had been contracted just three weeks ago to reposition the restaurant on the property, formerly Highwater -- offering a high-profile face for the venue.

“Past management just didn't have structure,” he says. “There was a great team, but they didn't have goals, they didn't have budgets.”

He says he was enthusiastic about building on a strong line-up into summer and had begun the process of turning the defunct Highwater Restaurant into a gourmet burger and milkshake joint.

Although The National, a club that opened on Broad Street last year, has given Toad's Place a run for its money, Bess says that it was the management, not the competition, that brought about the padlocking.

“It's not the National; it was lack of leadership in the past,” he says.

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