City could owe $3 million as Silk strip club keeps lawsuit winning streak alive
What we need here is for some alderman in the City of Milwaukee to go on iTunes and listen to the Enrique Iglesias love song, "Hero."
The line most appropriate to the situation the city finds itself in is, "I can be your hero baby."
Silk has applied several times, each time making arrangements to secure a property, including once in a barren wasteland in Walker's Point. Each time the Licenses committee of the Common Council has turned down the application after the usual suspects have arisen to protest the presence of a strip club.
The arguments have always been about disruption and plummeting property values, despite the fact that there is no evidence of either of those results. In truth, and I will always believe this, the arguments are because they just think there is something unsavory about a strip club.
So, Silk sued the city. Last year a jury in the court of U.S. Judge Lynn Adelman awarded Silk and its attorneys a combined amount of almost $1 million. After the appeal, which was released Wednesday, with the additional attorneys fees the city will be responsible for, it will be something over $1 million.
Then, there is a second lawsuit, just like the first, but covering a different time period (potentially three times longer). If that one goes the way the first one did, and there is no reason to believe it won't, the city may well be on the hook for over $2 million, plus the $1 million it owes now.
At some point somebody on the council is going to adopt the famous late Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen quote: "A million here, a million there and suddenly we're talking about real money."
While Silk has been adamant in continuing to apply for a license, the operators have also been open to settling the case. They have offered to drop damage awards in exchange for a license to operate what is, after all, a perfectly legal business.
Chief Justice Diane Wood wrote the opinion in the 3-0 decision.
"This case requires us to visit the world of strip clubs – establishments that no one seems to want, officially, but that are somehow quite lucrative," Wood wrote.
Let's hope that some alderman takes the time to actually read the decision and not just count on some kind of summary from it's own city attorneys, who argued for the appeal. If they do, they will see clearly that the city is, as Wood wrote, "fighting a losing battle…"
The legal argument over this was addressed when Wood talked about city ordinances having an "immediate chilling effect on its (Silk Exotic) protected speech."
"The City's real concern appears to be a variant of the floodgates scenario," she wrote. "It fears that plaintiffs will emerge from the woodwork alleging that they too would have undertaken protected First Amendment activities but for now- repealed statutes. This is sheer speculation, however, and it fails to take into account the many safeguards built into the court's authority to adjudicate claims. "
At the end of the decision Wood wrote that the city is "fighting a losing battle…"
What the city needs now is a hero. Someone who will take the lead and suggest that wasting this kind of money and time and effort to block a perfectly legal business is worse than foolhardy.
Milwaukee's downtown is on a binge of development. The city is trying to make it an entertainment center that will draw visitors from all over the county and beyond.
Sure, arenas and museums and restaurants and bars and music venues are a part of that development. But a well-run, high-end strip club can, and should, also be a part of it.
There has been a strip club Downtown for decades, the creatively named Art's Performing Center on Juneau Avenue in the heart of the Water Street bar district. Nobody seems to complain about the presence of that place, even though it is many notches below Silk on the class scale.
Both are strip clubs, but one falls into the dive bar category while the other is clearly a higher end club.
Jeff Scott Olson is the attorney who represents Silk and he doesn't sound optimistic that any settlement is near.
"The council is the most dysfunctional body since the League of Nations," he said. "Who knows what they are going to do?"
I tried calling several aldermen Wednesday and left messages, but nobody called me back.
So, where's our hero? Who is going to be the alderperson who says that "enough is enough"? Give Silk a license and save your money for a fight that you might actually have a chance of winning.
I'd much prefer that a hero on the Council emerge who will pass legislation to change the zoning of strip clubs...or pass an ordinance of some kind that flat out prohibits them. Then the pigs that operate those places won't have any grounds to sue in the first place.
What's to stop any number of "entrepreneurs" from applying to purchase property with intent to open a strip club, and then suing the city when they say no? Seems like an easy way to make a cool $Million at the moment...
Silk should stop wasting their time negotiating a direct deal with the city and join the Bucks entertainment complex. Those guys get everything they want!
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