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Rochester officials shut down Armory after fatal crowd surge

The main doors of the Rochester Armory, painted black, with the street number '900' at the top
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
The front doors of the Main Street Armory at 900 E. Main St. On March 5, after a concert featuring musical acts GloRilla and Finess2tymes, a surge of people tried to exit the building through these doors, injuring several people and leading to the deaths of three women.

The city of Rochester has revoked the Main Street Armory’s entertainment license after two women died as the result of a crowd surge that followed Sunday’s performance by rapper GloRilla.

The Armory, an early 1900s stone compound on East Main Street owned by Scott Donaldson, is one of Rochester’s largest venues for touring musical acts and conventions. The entertainment license is an annual contract between the Armory and the city, which was up for renewal.

City officials said they’re opting not to renew the license, citing a clause in it that stipulates the venue must “maintain good order on the premises.” The licenses are issued by Rochester Police Department Chief David Smith.

Donaldson had a scheduled meeting with city officials and the police chief on Wednesday, during which he could have voluntarily ceased operations until the investigation was over. Donaldson didn’t show. In response, Smith issued a letter informing Donaldson his license would not be renewed.

“Your contracted event security guards were unable to control the crowd as they were running, which in turn caused a human stampede,” the letter from Smith to Donaldson reads.

Shortly after GloRilla’s performance, the crowd suddenly rushed toward the Amory’s double-doored front entranceway. It’s unclear what caused the initial rush, though rumors of gunshots circulated, a claim police have been unable to verify.

Rochester Police Chief David Smith
Gino Fanelli
/
WXXI
Rochester Police Chief David Smith speaks to the media on Wednesday, March 8, 2023.

Rhondesia Belton, 33, of Buffalo, died as the crowd forced its way to and through the doors. Brandy Miller, 35, of Rochester, was transported to Strong Memorial Hospital in critical condition, where she died Monday of her injuries.

A third, unidentified woman is currently listed in critical condition. Seven other concert-goers reported to area hospitals with injuries after the incident.

The city’s revocation of the Armory’s license deals a critical blow to the business. It clears its calendar of all planned events including concerts, conventions, or sporting events.

Earlier this week, the city announced the show from rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, slated for this Saturday, would be canceled. Other events that had been scheduled to happen at the Armory included the reptile exhibition REXPO on April 8 and the 420 Cannabis Convention on April 20.

Smith said the decision to revoke the license was about protecting people.

“These are very serious and unique circumstances,” Smith said. “The bottom line is lives were lost, and we need to take steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future.”

Deputy Corporation Counsel Patrick Beath said the investigation among city agencies is ongoing and will have both criminal and code enforcement elements. He stressed that stripping the Armory of its license is not evidence of culpability in the deaths.

“We appreciate the public’s patience with these investigations as we move forward with them as thoroughly and diligently as possible,” Beath said. “The city is committed to holding the culpable parties responsible for this tragedy, and preventing future incidents.”

The investigation, which also includes probes by state agencies, is currently seeking to determine what factors contributed to the incident.

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.