As Councilmember Johnson Lee suggests moratorium, more topless clubs may come Downtown
With talk of more strip clubs coming Downtown, Councilmember Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward) is considering calling for a moratorium on adult entertainment licenses in the Warehouse District.
Under her plan, the moratorium would apply to proposals for new businesses Downtown, west of Hennepin Avenue South.
For a Downtown-wide moratorium, Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) would have to support the idea. Goodman declined to comment, saying more research needs to be done on the issue.
Johnson Lee, a Green Party member who represents residents in North Minneapolis, Downtown's North Loop neighborhood and parts of the Warehouse District, pitched the idea at a recent meeting of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association.
Johnson Lee said she hasn't made up her mind whether she is against more strip clubs but has received a number of calls from constituents on the issue and believes the idea of a moratorium should be explored.
Some are supportive of the idea, arguing the Warehouse District is already saturated with adult-entertainment venues, while others are concerned a moratorium on just one part of Downtown would put pressure on neighborhoods on the other side of town, such as Elliot Park.
However, clubgoers and patrons say lighten up -- strip clubs pose no more risk to residents than any other business and are part of the Downtown fabric.
New strip clubs
There is a buzz about new strip clubs opening at the former Alley site, an old blues bar that recently closed at 15 N. Glenwood, and the old Nikki's Caf/ space, 107 N. 3rd Ave.
Minneapolis Licensing Inspector Ken Ziegler said there's a pending application from the Seville Hotel LLC for a Class "A" liquor license for a new business at the old Alley space that indicates plans for topless dancing.
The new club billed as an "upscale gentleman's club," will be called The Seville and feature a French Quarter decr.
Dean Perlman, the manager of the new club, said the business will have "a positive impact on all area business owners, property owners, public parking patrons, and the public in general."
The proposed club's neighbors, O'Donavan's Irish Pub, 100 1st Ave. N., and First Avenue have written Johnson Lee letters of support for the club.
Former Alley owner Red Goldberg said he sold the place under the impression it would be some sort of sports bar. An application posted on the front door of the old blues joint shows a permit filed by Chris Diebold, a co-owner of several area restaurants, including Downtown eateries Maxwell's American Caf/, Inc., 1201 Washington Ave. S.; and Harvey's Bar & Grill, 106 N. 3rd St.
Diebold did not return phone calls for comment.
Owners of the hip-hop club Daddy Rocks, 315 1st Ave. N., have also spoken with neighborhood leaders about possibly adding an upscale gentleman's club with lap-dance performers, said Andy Hauer, chair of the DMNA land use committee.
An application has not made its way to the City Council, however.
Downtown: Strip Club Central
Johnson Lee is consulting with Minneapolis City Attorney Jay Heffern on the legal ramifications involved in imposing a ban on new licenses. She said existing businesses wishing to add topless service would be able to apply for a waiver.
According to the Minneapolis Inspections and Licenses Department, 10 establishments in the city have licenses for topless or nude dancing. Establishments with licenses for topless dancing can serve alcohol; those with dancers that bare it all are not allowed to serve liquor.
Among the 10, eight are located Downtown, including:
The 418 Club, Choice Gentleman's Club, D/j Vu and Dream Girls feature fully nude dancers; the others have topless dancers.
Strip clubs have been concentrated Downtown since 1992 when the City Council passed an ordinance, authored by Councilmembers Gary Schiff (9th Ward) and Joe Biernat (3rd Ward), that essentially allowed the city to uproot existing adult-entertainment businesses on the outskirts of Downtown, giving them a year to move into the urban core.
North Loop activist: 'We've got enough'
Despite the City Council's decision to concentrate adult-entertainment Downtown a decade ago, the area hasn't seen an influx of skin-revealing night spots.
So far, Rick's Cabaret, the 418 Club and Choice Gentleman's Club are the only new venues to open Downtown since the zoning change.
Tom Hoch, chair of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association, said he's sympathetic to those calling for a moratorium, given the increasingly residential nature of Downtown, but has some concerns about limiting it to the Warehouse District.
"I'm not sure a moratorium, if appropriate, should be applied to just one part of Downtown. This approach will necessarily produce more pressure for these businesses in the remaining areas not included in the moratorium, many of which have a great deal of new housing, such as the riverfront and Elliot Park," he said.
Hauer, chair of the DMNA land use committee, said the businesses have a draw for many people who live and work Downtown.
"I'm kind of a contemporary person. I think one of the reasons why a person lives Downtown is that they look for that [modern sensibility]. If they don't like it, they just accept it as being in the urban category," he said. Hoch added that he goes over to Sex World "quite a bit," and that it is full of young, people, "like the University of Minnesota campus."
North Loop neighborhood activist Sue Jahn, meanwhile, is supportive of the moratorium. "Absolutely, we've got enough," Jahn said, a former North Loop Neighborhood Association board member who's lived in the neighborhood for 18 years.
Jahn said she was active in a neighborhood crime watch that assisted Minneapolis Police in uncovering the nation's largest prostitution ring ever federally prosecuted. The Minneapolis-based ring, known as "The Family," operated for 20 years, forcing teen-age girls into the sex trade by threats of violence.
Jahn said she's observed criminal activity on corners in the red-light district.
"[The clubs] have the right to be there, we understand that, but we have a right as a neighborhood not to have drug dealers on the corner or prostitutes," she said.
Luther Krueger, a civilian crime-prevention specialist for the 1st Precinct, said adult-entertainment businesses don't differ much from other Downtown business in terms of security.
"It doesn't matter if it's a coffee shop, or a strip club, or a liquor store, or an office building -- if it's not managed well, it can be a problem and can invite criminal activity," he said. "One might debate whether a liquor store or an adult entertainment establishment by their very presence impacts property values, neighborhood aesthetics, etc. That's really outside of our purview, but for crime and safety issues, you have to look at each establishment on a case-by-case basis."
North Loop resident Julie Landsman, a columnist for Skyway News, said the adult-entertainment businesses appear to maintain a quiet presence in the neighborhood.
Before moving to Downtown, Landsman lived in South Minneapolis and was active in pushing a nearby sauna out of her neighborhood. She said it drew drug dealers.
"The businesses seem to keep themselves in some ways," Landsman said. "I have not had any negative experiences around these businesses when I have walked or driven by them, so I cannot say they have affected me."
While the direct impact on the neighborhood might be minimal, Landsman said she has "some real concerns about adult entertainment in regards to women and the degradation of women who work there. I have concerns about young women getting involved with this world when they are very new to the city," she said.
'Spice in the Warehouse District'
Some have a more positive take on Downtown's red-light district.
Sex World Managers Corey Meyer and Aaron Van Koningsveld say the brightly lit four-story warehouse at 241 N. 2nd Ave. is a good neighbor. They say the building has good security measures in place and that police often rely on video footage from the building's security cameras.
For those who haven't taken a look inside the expansive warehouse, Sex World is filled with every sort of sex novelty imaginable. The customer base is a mix of young and old.
Van Koningsveld said the business has grown in recent years.
"On the weekends, this place is shoulder-to-shoulder. There used to be mostly middle-aged men here. Now there are sorority girls," he said. "I would say that Sex World is the spice in the Warehouse District. It's a hub of sorts. It's playful."
When asked about their thoughts on a possible moratorium on new adult entertainment businesses, Meyer said, "I think it's kind of silly. Downtown is a place to come and have fun."
When a Skyway News reporter and photographer attempted to talk to other workers at Downtown strip clubs, including the Skyway Lounge, D/j Vu Showgirls, Dream Girls and Choice Gentleman's Club, most refused.
One strip club manager, however, at Choice Gentleman's club, located across the street from Sex World, made a few comments.
Nick Moriarty, who was manning the club's front desk on a recent afternoon, said he didn't support the idea of a moratorium. He said the Downtown topless bars provide an outlet for some people.
"We provide a service for out-of-towners. There is nothing like this in the suburbs. We sort of get pushed into a corner," he said. "As for the idea that we attract criminal activity, there is criminal activity everywhere."