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Rumba Room Told to Dance Away

A rumble has broken out over Rumba Room. It’s a leading Latino nightspot at Universal CityWalk that has received its walking papers, but the club isn’t going gently.

Rumba Room, which draws clubgoers out for a night of salsa dancing and Latino music stars who often drop by after performing at the Gibson Amphitheatre, was served an eviction lawsuit by CityWalk on Jan. 21.

The nightclub responded with a suit of its own, accusing CityWalk of discriminating against its “Latina ownership and largely Latino patrons,” and unfairly denying its lease extension.

“It doesn’t make sense that they would want to get rid of an establishment that’s been there for 10 years that is Latina owned and Latino themed,” said Delia Hauser, owner of the Rumba Room. “With so many Latinos on the Walk, it just doesn’t make sense to us.”

Eliot Sekuler, vice president of public relations at Universal Studios Hollywood, denied Rumba Room’s allegations.

“There’s not a word of truth to support their claims,” Sekuler said. “And we are confident that when the facts of this case come out in a court of law – where this dispute belongs – that the court will rule in our favor.”

Universal CityWalk, now part of the NBCUniversal LLC joint venture majority owned by Comcast Corp., is a bustling retail and entertainment strip visited by more than 4 million tourists and Angelenos each year.

Rumba Room, with its multiple dance floors and VIP lounges, has been a big draw for the local Latino community. The nightclub, which employs about 40, draws about 2,500 patrons from Thursday through Sunday, its busiest nights.

The club features live performances by emerging Latino pop stars, and clubgoers often see celebrities such as comedian George Lopez, boxing star Oscar de la Hoya and Mexican crooner Cristian Castro.

Ruben Guerra, chairman of downtown L.A.-based Latin Business Association, enjoys going to the Rumba Room and believes it plays a significant role in the Latino community.

Guerra, who’s not involved in the dispute, said Rumba Room’s allegations of discrimination concern him.

“It’s astonishing to me to really believe that CityWalk would be trying to do something like this,” Guerra said. “It is not in the best interest of business, especially when they talk about removing the Rumba Room because it didn’t meet the financial expectations of CityWalk. That is something that should not even be used to remove a business because in the last three years the economy has really affected everybody across the board.”

However, one Universal CityWalk business owner defends his landlord from the charge.

Andy Camacho, owner of Mexican restaurant Camacho’s Cantina and a co-founder of Rumba Room, wrote a letter supporting CityWalk’s position.

In response to a request for comment by the Business Journal, Camacho’s secretary e-mailed a statement that he hasn’t witnessed any discrimination.

“In reading Hauser’s claims, there is no truth to her statements,” Camacho said. “To the contrary, CityWalk has been incredibly supportive of Latino businesses – including my own restaurant, as well as the Rumba Room – and of the Latino community in general.”

Camacho is no longer an owner of Rumba Room.

Musical promoter

Ralph Hauser III opened Rumba Room with Camacho in 2000 after building a multimillion-dollar business promoting Latin music stars such as Juan Gabriel, Vicente Fernandez and Luis Miguel. Hauser died in 2003 of a heart attack and his wife, Delia Hauser, took over.

Rumba Room has continued to draw a crowd, but the nightclub did experience a slowdown in the recession. Delia Hauser said she’s never missed a rent payment, but acknowledged that she wasn’t able to meet a required gross sales threshold – a percentage of which Universal CityWalk receives in addition to rent.

But Rumba Room’s attorneys argue in court documents filed in response to the eviction that Universal CityWalk representatives agreed at a May 2009 meeting to waive the sales condition.

Then, in December of that year, Rumba Room sent a letter to Universal CityWalk, asking to extend its lease that was set to expire Dec. 31 for an additional five years, according to the court documents. Rumba Room claims in its suit that Universal CityWalk denied its request on the basis that the nightclub didn’t meet the sales requirement.

Also in the suit, Rumba Room claims it’s the victim of discrimination by CityWalk. The nightclub claims that CityWalk has blocked it from hosting after-parties and required its deejays to play only Spanish-language songs at its main dance floor, which interferes with the club’s ability to offer what customers may want. Rumba Room also alleges that Universal CityWalk’s security officers have been harassing customers.

CityWalk has already leased Rumba Room’s space to Infusion Lounge, a glitzy club. Infusion, which also has a San Francisco location, last month announced its plans to open at Universal CityWalk this spring.

CityWalk’s Sekuler declined to comment on whether Infusion’s grand opening could be delayed by the dispute with Rumba Room.

But if Hauser gets her way, Infusion will not be moving into Rumba Room’s space.

“We have many years and a lot of history here,” she said. “And my husband did so much for Latinos, and I would like to see it continue.”

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