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The Licensing Committee heard arguments from the community on the placement of a Downtown strip club.

Downtown strip club supporters point to Minneapolis for examples of success

With a May 8 deadline looming, the war of words over a proposed strip club Downtown is escalating, as a coalition of powerful business interests remain opposed, while the mayor and members of the Common Council are on the other side, using Minneapolis as an example.

Patrick Curley, Mayor Tom Barrett's chief of staff, said Barrett "wants this settled sooner rather than later." Curley would not comment further on the record.

Alderman Jim Bohl was leading the fight for approval on the council, recognizing that the city faced a possible $10 million hit if lawsuits from the strip club owners proceeded. The city has also paid $1 million in a judgment in a lawsuit filed by Silk Exotic. The new proposed club Downtown will be called The Executive Lounge.

"We have to look out for the taxpayers on this," Bohl said. "There's a lot of other things we could spend $10 million on."

Minneapolis has become a big part of this argument, following a letter from a Madison attorney, Jeff Scott Olson, who represents the applicants for the license.

OnMilwaukee obtained a copy of the letter, sent to Milwaukee Downtown (BID #21) attorney Deborah Tomczyk, from Olson. Beth Weirick, executive director of BID #21 has been one of the most vocal and passionate opponents of the license proposal for a property at 730 N. Old World 3rd St.

Part of the letter said:

"In your statement from April 24 you reiterated your objection that an adult entertainment establishment 'has no place in the renaissance of Wisconsin Avenue,' and you continued to object without making any realistic alternative suggestions. Instead, BID #21 cynically offered five alternative locations in a largely industrial area in the Menomonee Valley. Not surprisingly, the Menomonee Valley partners were opposed. And we don't blame them. Land that is zoned for industrial use is not the appropriate place for an entertainment venue. Industrial land should be reserved to support businesses that can provide family-supporting, technical jobs for Milwaukee residents. It's not the appropriate place to establish a nightlife establishment and promote a vibrant, 18 hour city for your residents, Downtown workers and visitors.

Entertainment venues belong Downtown, clustered among other entertainment venues like theaters, restaurants, taverns and hotels. The City's Comprehensive Plan For Downtown supports this simple planning principle. The Plan, which BID #21 helped create, refers to the North Old World Third District as, among other things, an entertainment district. If granted a license, Executive Lounge would be one small component added to the mix of the entertainment available in that district.

Despite years of objecting, BID #21 has never offered any concrete evidence that the presence of one adult entertainment club would endanger the economic viability of any part of Downtown.

On the following pages, I submit actual evidence to the contrary, taken from the city of Minneapolis where adult entertainment clubs co-exist with all manner of development: high end residences, luxury hotels, family-oriented entertainment venues, boutique retailers and government offices.

Downtown Minneapolis is home to nine gentlemen's clubs that operate alongside some of the city's most exclusive retail, residential and hotel establishments. There is absolutely no evidence that entertainment clubs have impeded development in Minneapolis. Instead, these clubs have added to the vibrant mix of entertainment options in a city that many cite as an example of successful downtown redevelopment. These clubs coexist with high end apartments and condos and are within walking distance of the city's best known cultural attractions."

According to Olson, the apartments that exist in the Minneapolis neighborhood with strip clubs rent between $1,300 and $5,000 a month and condominiums range from $500,000 to more than $1 million. In addition, the Minneapolis Convention Center is less than two blocks from several strip clubs. This year, the center will play host to a Girl Scout convention, a girls national volleyball tournament and the Minnesota Pet Expo.

Olson pointed to downtown Minneapolis as a mecca for tourists, residents, theaters and conventions, and where nine strip clubs are located.

Olson said there were many stores, hotels and apartment buildings either on the same block or within two blocks of strip clubs. That list included Marriott, Westin, Loews, Radisson, Residence Inn, Embassy Suites, the historic Midland Bank Building (a luxury hotel development) and other hotels; museums like the Minneapolis Autograph Collection and the Wells Fargo History Museum; the Minneapolis Central Library and City Hall; the famed Nicollet Mall; a wide variety of high-end shops and boutiques, including Whole Foods; hundreds of upscale luxury apartments and condominiums; the Target Center and Target Field, the Minneapolis Convention Center and a wide variety of theaters that play host to music, theatrical and other entertainment events.

The letter seems to go to the heart of the objections from the business interests. During interviews and testimony at a License Committee hearing April 17, the opponents of the license were unified in their arguments.

Several community leaders and members spoke at the hearing. Those present and some of their concerns included the following:

Stacie Callies, executive director of the Westown Association: "We have concerns that this use will negatively impact the nearby retail, residential and commercial uses, negatively impact property values and have a potential negative impact of the tax base for an entire generation."

Weirick: "In 2017 we declared this the year of Wisconsin Avenue. We are celebrating our successes. We are activating public spaces with public art and lighting. Let's not let lawsuits make decisions that we'll have forever. It will have a really bad negative impact on our city. A strip club will not do anything to enhance property values or the quality of life. Do not be bamboozled."

Mahesh Reddy, general manager Milwaukee Hilton Hotel: "This will have a negative impact on tourism. There will be an increase in crime and urban blight. I'm basically talking about the public urination and drunkenness associated with a business like this. Littering and loitering will be quite prevalent because of this business."

Kristen Settle, communications manager for Visit Milwaukee: "We have severe concerns about a strip club coming Downtown. There are a number of conventions we believe may not come back to Milwaukee. They include the Mothers of Preschoolers, who brought 3,000 people to the city with a $5 million impact; Jehovah's Witnesses, that brought 30,000 people last year with an impact of $20 million; the Bead and Button show, that had a $1.7 million impact. We have not talked to these groups, but this is what our sales force believes."

Bob Monnat, The Mandel Group: "We manage 300 residential units near this location. Within a few blocks of this location, there are nearly 1,000 people living nearby. There couldn't be a worse spot to put it."

Michael Maher, CEO of Legal Action, Wisconsin: "We serve 4,300 clients out of our Downtown office. Out of 60 attorneys, about 50 are female. We think it's not appropriate for a professional area where there are attorneys and clients walking by the strip club."

David Wiley, lives next door to the proposed location: "There is an alley next door to where I live, between the site for the club and my building. That alley acts as an echo chamber. If they had to remove somebody from the club, the noise might wake me up, and I would not get a good night's sleep."

Matt Dorner, representing Newaukee: "We bring 10,000 people a night (when the event is in season) to Downtown for the annual Night Markets. We have families and kids making s'mores on bonfire pits at 3rd and Wisconsin."

Martha Love, founder of the Wisconsin Human Trafficking Task Force: "Sex trafficking and labor trafficking is an epidemic in Wisconsin. We are steadfast in the belief shared by many survivors that strip clubs are a gateway to human sex trafficking. We have a golf opening (the U. S. Open at Erin Hills in June) and are trying to stop our children from furnishing commercial sex to a number of people who are going to attend that golf opening. All 15 aldermanic districts are under siege because of the epidemic of human trafficking. "

Tony Janowiec, part of the group that bought The Shops of Grand Avenue in December 2015: "I've invested $26 million in The Grand and plan to invest another $40 million. The biggest challenge with development of The Grand is perception. Perception goes back 30 years. The biggest challenge we face is the loitering between 2nd and 4th Streets. That's the biggest challenge for our management team. Imagine people coming to the food hall and walking up 3rd Street to the Bucks Live block and passing a strip club. Or people going to their cars or coming into a convention and walking past a strip club? Give me a break. This would be the largest slap in my face."

The applicants for the license have reached an agreement with the City Attorney's office, pledging to drop all pending lawsuits in exchange for the license. The Licenses Committee is scheduled to take up the matter at its May 8 meeting, and if the settlement agreement is approved, it will then go to the entire Common Council for a vote.

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