BJ’s won’t have topless entertainment after 2006

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Female topless dancers might not be working in North and Northeast for very much longer. BJ’s Lounge at 229 West Broadway has agreed to stop its topless entertainment at the end of 2006. And the Minneapolis City Council Friday refused to extend a deadline for a Northeast bar, 22nd Avenue Station at 2121 University Ave. NE, to stop the topless entertainment, agreeing with an administrative law judge’s recent recommendation. In that case, the owner’s attorney says the case will go to federal court.

Both bars have, until recently, had waivers from a city ordinance that outlawed adult entertainment anywhere but downtown.

In June, however, city officials decided they had given the bars enough time to amortize their investment in the adult entertainment. BJ’s eventually settled for a deal allowing the dancers to remain through this year, 22nd Avenue Station appealed the city’s determination.

The City Council decided not to allow any more extensions. And that, says the bar owner’s attorney, will definitely put his client out of business.

The 22nd Avenue Station, which is owned by Glenn Peterson, has featured topless dancers since 1984. Peterson brought them in when the bar was in financial trouble; he said (according to a Minneapolis city attorney’s report) that the dancers brought in more business than other types of entertainment he’d tried and were, in fact, the only thing keeping him out of bankruptcy.

(There is no cover charge at the 22nd Avenue Station, and Peterson doesn’t pay the dancers; they work only for tips.)

However, in 2002, the City of Minneapolis passed an Adult Entertainment Ordinance, which stated that bars with such entertainment could only operate downtown in a designated area. That meant BJ’s and 22nd Avenue Station’s adult entertainment was violating the city’s zoning code; city officials said they had to conform to the code by May 1, 2003.

They applied for extensions, and the city agreed not to enforce the termination date until the city council had made a decision on the extension applications.

Meanwhile, the city attorney asked the bars for financial information, to determine whether or not the dancers were actually keeping the businesses afloat.

Assistant City Attorney Erik Nilsson said BJ’s then reached its agreement with the city, and the 22nd Avenue Station case has been more or less “in the discovery phase” since then.

The city hired an accounting expert to analyze the bar’s financial data; the accountant, Marshall Besikof, a CPA, served as the city’s primary witness when the matter went to the State office of Administrative Hearings and Administrative Law Judge Steve Mihalchick. The city attorneys claimed that the information Peterson provided didn’t show that the topless dancing entertainment had increased the bar’s revenue. Besikof noted that although Peterson has put money into upgrading the building and buying new equipment, the improvements didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the dancers.

On Dec. 15, Mihalchick recommended that the city council deny the application for an extension.

On Jan. 19, the city council’s Zoning and Planning committee voted unanimously to adopt the recommendation and pass the matter on to the Council. Council and committee members Gary Schiff, Ralph Remington, Lisa Goodman, Don Samuels and Cam Gordon attended the Zoning and Planning committee; Sandy Colvin Roy was absent.

Peterson’s attorney, Randall Tigue, said “adult entertainment is an absolutely necessary part of the business. As far as my client is concerned, without adult entertainment, he will go out of business.”

When asked what he thought about his client’s chances of prevailing, he said, “They’re not very good, with this city council, even though there’s no reason to do what they’re doing. It is our intention to file suit in U.S. District Court before it goes to the council. We intend to challenge the ordinance itself.”

Tigue said the dancers work in three-hour shifts, from noon to midnight. The bar, he said, does a good business and relies on a regular clientele.

He said that in 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court created limited exceptions for zoning adult entertainment, saying that they could cause adverse secondary effects in surrounding areas, increasing crime, decreasing property values and increasing urban blight.

“We can show differently, in this case,” Tigue said. “I think [the] secondary effects [argument] there has as much truth to it as George Bush’s weapons of mass destruction. The 22nd Avenue Station is not causing property values to decline. It generates fewer police calls than any other bar in the city. There is no evidence that it contributes to urban blight. That’s what we’ll hammer home in federal court.”

The 22nd Avenue Station is in Northeast’s Holland neighborhood. Kevin Reich, executive director of the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association, said, “We have had some level of monitoring of the situation. I shared the administrative law judge’s findings with the board. One board member pointed out that we’ve never had one complaint about this business. But at this point it seems pretty much like a done deal.”

Reich added that neighbors didn’t react, much, about the bar losing its topless dancers. “Some people seemed to feel that this [the dancing] might not be the best thing for the community.

“We’ve always said Holland is a diverse, self-contained community that has it all,” Reich said. “Now, that’s going to be a little less true.”

BJ’s attorney Dennis Johnson said that what the city did was legal and that city officials “went through the appropriate hoops.”

“They gave people a certain amount of time. We challenged the amount of time,” he said. Eventually, however, they determined that it was better to settle for an extension through 2006.

“We decided we’ll go quietly, we’ll take our medicine, and then decide what to do with the corner.”

Johnson also questioned whether BJ’s has any negative effect on the surrounding area, especially considering the neighborhood is mostly industrial. “I don’t think it has any effect on the people around it,” he said.

However, he said, that fight is over. “We’ve cut a deal. We’re done thinking about it.”

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