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City Says Ludlow Theater Never Had Occupancy License, Has Fire Code Violations

The popular Circus Mojo cannot operate inside of its building where a brewery is also expected to open soon.

During the annual fire code inspections in April, it was brought to the City of Ludlow’s attention that the old Ludlow Theater building which currently houses Circus Mojo was in violation of nine fire codes and that owner Paul Miller could not produce a Certificate of Occupancy for the building.

“While researching why the building would have been granted occupancy without these systems, they found no Certificate of Occupancy was issued for the business to operate out of the building,” said Ludlow City Administrator Elishia Chamberlain in a written statement. 

Miller was given 30 days to correct the violations and meet the fire code which he was unable to do in time and therefor was prohibited from operating his circus in the space. The Ludlow Fire Department expressed concerns over the lack of smoke/heat detectors and sprinklers, the use of too many extension cords, electrical wiring issues, lack of hand rails and guard rails on the second story of the stage area, and wood construction among other issues.

Miller was also unable to produce documentation for the stage curtain, electrical working and permits for construction or demolition since he began occupying the building in 2009. After this meeting, it was determined the building could not be occupied until all standards were met with appropriate documentation. 

The Ludlow Fire Department contacted the Planning and Development Services of Northern Kentucky (PDS) to assist in its findings.

“I found in fact that the fire inspector of the City of Ludlow was correct in that there were several violations in the building and that the building should not have been occupied,” said Jeff Bechtold of PDS. “During the process, we also checked the existing records from Ludlow and the historical data on that structure and we came to find out that Paul Miller never received a certificate of occupancy and he was told by the city building inspector at that time that he would have to obtain one prior to occupying his structure. It was something that kind of fell through the cracks it looked like. He got in there during the transition of them having their own building inspector and us taking over, and he went ahead and operated without a certificate of occupancy after being notified as such.”

Paul Miller with his new brewing equipment (RCN)

Bechtold informed Miller that the remedy for the existing conditions in order to continue to operate would have to satisfy the requirements with the fire department. It was the fire department that shut the doors of the business as PDS does not have such authority.  

The old historic theater was first sold to a machine shop which changed its use of occupancy to allow wood construction inside the building. Once Miller procured the building, he then needed to make the changes to the building that would allow for what is known as a group-assembly use where people unfamiliar with the building can be inside for entertainment or other purposes. Since Miller did not make the changes to its use of occupancy, the building was in violation. The only current use the building is legally allowed to have is still that of a machine shop. 

Miller had committed to a summer youth circus program scheduled for early June, which Bechtold said could happen if Miller could produce a plan drafted by an engineer or architect, but there was not a timely response.

“He had a considerable amount of work to do to be able to occupy the structure,” Bechtold said. “I explained to him the day that the doors were shut that if he brought me a plan, I would ensure that he would have had his building permit back in a timely manner so that he could have opened his doors when he made a commitment to these kids’ parents. He has yet to bring anything to my office.”

In July, Miller obtained large-scale beer brewing equipment that is currently housed in the theater. His plan is to begin to brew beer under the label Bircus Beer, which will be a Belgian-style brew and whose funds will be used to help operate the circus. 

“He has to incorporate the services of a design professional, like an architect and/or an engineer. The size of the building requires that of a revised Kentucky state statute, and I explained that to him the days the doors were shut. He said that he had been working with an architect on the possibility of changing it to a brewery. Once he has documents that are stamped by an architect or engineer for review, we will review them for code compliance prior to allowing the start of any construction and then we would do our periodic inspections and we would then make a final inspection issuing a certificate of occupancy upon completion of the work. I have not had contact with him since the end of May or the beginning of June.” Bechtold said.

Miller told The River City News that he does not intend to fight the city on the issue, and instead will work to fix the fire code violations so that he can keep both the circus and brewery operating in the old theater. He said he got the brewery/circus business model from an associate in Belgium that operates a similar set up.

“The City is like the Old Testament with its eye-for-an-eye, but I am like the New Testament by turning the other cheek,” Miller said. 

Ludlow’s position on the matter is that it puts personal safety at the forefront of all the businesses that operate within its limits. 

“The City of Ludlow does not seek to hinder any business, and willingly works with businesses to thrive. The success of businesses located here has a direct and positive impact on the City.  However, it is imperative that the City enforces Zoning and Code to ensure the safety of the individuals that patron these businesses.  The City, and PDSKC, have a due diligence to provide safety to all those who visit businesses within the City.  If a business has not appropriately inspected, has never been approved for occupancy, and does not meet basic safety standards, the City has a duty to uphold.  Human health and safety is of the utmost concern to the City, and we must ensure we are not putting people in harm’s way,” stated Chamberlain. 

City officials hope that Miller moves forward quickly and looks forward to his building reopening for business as Circus Mojo is considered a value to the city.  

Clarification: An earlier headline read that Circus Mojo was in violation, but the violations are attached to the Ludlow Theater where the circus performs.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor