T&A Fray

It's always politically expedient for officials to oppose adult clubs, but the taxpayer tab for the city's losing crusade against Billy Burn's downtown strip bar is likely to top $10,000.

ON ITS LIST of "Forty Ways to Spend the Day in Minneapolis," the city's sugary, brand-new, long-range growth plan, the Minneapolis Planning Department suggests urbanites "people-watch in Uptown," "hang out at one of the city's numerous coffee shops," and "go on a historic walking tour of the Warehouse District." Nowhere in the 150-page document are any of downtown's adult entertainment establishments mentioned, despite the fact that the industry is experiencing a slight boon in the downtown Warehouse District.

With the Minneapolis Plan draft circulating, a new townhouse construction project in the works for the Warehouse District called RiverStation--currently billed as the largest single development of homes for purchase in Minneapolis history--and November's elections looming, it's little wonder that City Council kept relatively quiet about granting a Class A liquor and adult entertainment license in June to Rick's Cabaret, opening soon on 300 S. 3rd St. More vocal were attempts made by the City Council Licensing Committee to oppose granting an entertainment license to the 418 Club on 3rd Ave. N., despite the fact that there were no legal grounds to do so.

According to Council Member Joe Biernat, chairman of the licensing and public safety committee, the council had originally voted to grant the 418 Club its license, but "had a change of mind about 10 minutes later as council members became aware of certain details." The detail that upset council members was the 12-year-old conviction of club owner Dick Wise for promoting prostitution at a club he owned in Fridley.

"Of course we felt that a person with such a criminal record should not be operating an adult entertainment club," says Biernat, who, in an apparent show of humanitarian concern, fingers the club's architectural design as being inherently degrading. "We took a tour to simply see what the facility looked like. I tell you, those floor plans looked real insidious. You have the girls emerging onto a staircase from the basement. To have these women coming out of a basement is tantamount to exploitation."

But sexist floor plans aren't enough to deny granting an entertainment license, and neither is a 12-year-old criminal conviction. By the council's own ordinance, a license can be denied on the grounds of a criminal offense only if that offense was committed within the last three years. Biernat concedes that there's not much leverage to deny granting the license. "They're not serving alcohol after all."

Indeed, on July 15, Hennepin County Judge Beryl Nord issued a restraining order against the city so that the 418 Club could open on time. It's likely that the judge will order the city to grant the license, since there is no legal basis to deny it, something the club's management says the city attorney made clear from the get-go. "They're going to have to pay our attorney's fees, and that's taxpayers' money just blown," says the club's manager, Billy Burns, who estimates legal fees currently total close to $10,000. "They created an adult zone here, and we're in that adult zone, so I don't really know what the problem is. It's just been a lot of rigmarole, and very frustrating."

Nord is expected to deliver an analysis of the two positions within the next few weeks. "I'm hopeful that Judge Nord won't determine that the fulfillment of ordinance requirements is the only basis to issue a license," says City Attorney Dana Banwer. "I can't determine what our course of action will be until I see what the memorandum says, but if Nord doesn't preclude us from proceeding on the issue of Dick Wise--that is, to have an administrative law judge determine whether or not he has been rehabilitated since his prior conviction--then that's what we'll do."

But despite such hopeful rhetoric, the city seems to have painted itself into this corner two years ago when it updated regulations on zoning and licensing laws regarding adult entertainment, effectively barring it from every neighborhood except the Warehouse District, which, the above-mentioned growth plan makes clear, the city hopes will soon house high-tech businesses, upper-middle-class town homes and outlets for less risque recreation. According to Burns, during a meeting with city officials, Nord informed the city that it was grasping at straws in attempting to deny the 418 Club a license. But righteous and loud opposition to the opening of a sex club by council members goes on the record nicely. After all, it's such opposition, not incurred legal fees, that gets remembered come election time.

 
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