By James Atkinson
Melbourne CBD will soon have a new live music venue after a well-known jazz personality had his "vexatious" legal challenge against the laneway bar rejected.
Michael Tortoni, who owns and operates Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, a Melbourne 'institution' in the live music scene, opposed an application by Robert Cripps to open Ruby's Music Room, a live music venue to be located nearby on the corner of Little Lonsdale Street and Bennetts Lane.
Tortoni, who is also the creative director of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, applied to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a review of the council's decision to grant a planning permit for the venue.
He claimed to be concerned about the capacity of Ruby's to lawfully accommodate 94 patrons, as well as its waste management plan.
But the tribunal heard evidence that Tortoni's real reason for opposing the new venue was that he saw it as a competitive threat to his own jazz club.
Correspondence from Tortoni was quoted to the tribunal in which he said he would not support the "cannibalisation" of the business he had built up over many years.
Tortoni did not deny making this statement, nor that he had said that if Cripps "wanted to satisfy such a passion somewhere else that was not as blatantly opportunistic as his attempt to feed off my hard work, my view may be different".
Tortoni reportedly said the proposed Ruby's Music Room would capture much of the Bennett’s Lane 'walk up' which he had established over "20 years of goodwill".
"This will have a shattering effect on an already financially marginal business, jobs would be lost and a Melbourne icon and national treasure would be gone forever all caused by an individual with dubious intentions," he said.
Tribunal member Dalia Cook said the evidence "globally indicates" that Tortoni's challenge "was principally motivated to maintain an indirect advantage for his existing venue, by protecting it from competition associated with the proposed venue".
"In the absence of cogent planning grounds in support of the application, these features characterise the application as vexatious in that the review was brought for a collateral purpose," she said.
She ordered Michael Tortoni pay the legal costs of Robert Cripps' company Redleg Museum Services, which amounted to $1,700.
Cripps, an enthusiast of jazz, classical, opera and world music told TheShout the ruling puts an end to Tortoni's "farcical" objections and Ruby's Music Room will open for business in March.
"We'll be operating as a café through the day, and then the venue will be themed by curtains that will close along the walls for performances at night," he said.