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Thursday, Aug. 12, 2004 02:52 am

Last dance

After hearing about all the beer-swilling, pot-smoking, car-surfing vandals, Sangamon County Board member Sam Cahnman wanted to see for himself if Club 10 really was a teenage wasteland.

On Sunday Cahnman attended the popular all-ages live music venue at 1200 N. Bradfordton Rd., where 14 bands jammed for a crowd of nearly 300 toe-tapping local youths.

It was Club 10's final, blowout performance since the county board had ordered it shut down due to zoning violations and complaints from neighbors [Todd Spivak, "Unplugged," July 29].

Cahnman was among the tiny handful of board members who supported the club; this weekend he became the lone member of the 29-person county board to actually visit the place.

He reports the music was "a little loud for my taste," and some of the hair-styles and face piercings "seemed kind of unusual." But he witnessed no illegal activity; rather, he was impressed by a well-behaved crowd and a revolving door of talented, young performers.

"I think some of my colleagues on the county board forget what it was like growing up," says Cahnman, a Springfield-based attorney. "It was just kids having a good time playing and listening to music.

"The place," he continued, "is basically in the middle of nowhere. I couldn't think of a better place to have a club with live music."

The club's immediate neighbors, however, disagree. They had routinely complained to police of loud music, illegal trespassing, and underage drinking at Club 10 since it opened in spring 2002.

A lack of communication among county officials enabled the club to operate illegally -- without the required zoning permits -- until a formal complaint was filed earlier this year.

"Some might say it's sloppy government," admits county board chairman Andy Van Meter. "There were police reports about activity taking place in the parking lot. You would think that would alert us to a zoning violation out there. But the left hand doesn't always know what the right hand is doing."

For weeks, owner Justin Ford has been shopping for a new building to house Club 10, but all prospective sites have so far proved too costly.

The 26-year-old Illiopolis resident had leased space for just $600 per month from USA Sports Center, a large complex that includes a gymnasium and game room.

Doug Dennis, owner of USA Sports Center, had considered suing the county board for not granting the zoning change. He changed his mind after consulting a pair of attorneys last week, and has since applied for zoning variances that would enable him to continue hosting private parties, fundraisers, and monthly wrestling shows.

"I don't have the money; I don't have the political connections," says Dennis, explaining his decision not to fight the board.

According to Sangamon County zoning administrator Randy Armstrong, a music venue would "fit better in an urban-type setting." Unfortunately, he says, Club 10 opened at its current address a decade too soon.

He explains that plans exist to widen Bradfordton Road -- a mostly sleepy, rural thoroughfare -- into a four-lane highway that would eventually connect to the endless stretch of strip malls that line Wabash Avenue.

"There absolutely will be more commercial buildings on Bradfordton Road in the next five to 10 years," says Armstrong. "Mr. Dennis probably is ahead of his time."

But this provides little consolation for Dennis, who prided himself on giving kids a safe refuge in which to socialize.

"We proved to the community that there's a drastic need for a place like this," says Dennis.

"The next time some kid gets hurt driving home from a cornfield kegger, or gets caught sneaking into a 21-and-over club, it will weigh heavily on the conscience of the people who closed the teen center."

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