Not in my backyard
With two unanimous votes of the licensing committee on Monday, Silk East and Satin,two gentleman’s clubs slated to open on Old World Third Street and on Pittsburgh Street, were denied Class “B” liquor and cabaret licenses. The city council could override the recommendation, but it is highly unlikely.
Through hours of testimony, citizens and leaders within quasi-governmental organizations spoke out against opening of the clubs near downtown citing a decrease in property values, increased crime and the loss of retailers if exotic dancers are allowed to bump and grind.
When asked for actual data supporting value drops, crime increases and retailers running from areas around gentlemen’s clubs, the real reason for the opposition finally came out and the underlying sentiment was simply, “not in my backyard.”
One woman feared having to pass by Silk East’s clientele to get to her apartment at 730 N. Old World Third. A fellow resident feared the mix of “testosterone and alcohol.”
Westown Association Executive Director Stacie Callies said Silk East didn’t fit with a development plan created by the Downtown BID #21 and city.
“This property is in a catalytic retail district and a gentleman’s club is not in that plan,” she told the committee. “We have an opportunity to turn this location into a positive. This is not the best and highest use of development.”
Martini Mike’s, a nightclub that has been closed since a 90-day license revocation and subsequent homicide outside its doors, is the most recent occupant of the property. Some people wanted to see Mike’s reopen, but the majority did not and did not want exotic dancers replacing it.
Dave Wear, who owns the building, said in the 10 years he has held the property he has never been approached by a retailer, the Westown Association or BID #21 about leasing space.
“This is the best, most qualified person and business for this building,” Wear said. “Without it I’m facing grim economic prospects as my taxes and utilities have risen 25 percent, while my rents have only increased five.”
Silk representatives provided a property value analysis that showed assessed values in neighborhoods with a gentleman’s club had not changed more or less than neighborhoods without clubs. A Milwaukee Police Department sergeant from the 4th precinct testified that the Silk location on W. Silver Spring Road has not had any calls for fights, altercations or assaults in the seven years since it opened.
The Historic Walker’s Point Association maintained a neutral position on Satin, but many of its individual members spoke against it. Altera Coffee owner Lincoln Fowler cited a south side development plan that called for residences, boutiques, services, restaurants, bars and theaters for the area around Pittsburgh Street. While the document didn’t specify what a ‘theater’ was, Fowler said he read it to mean ‘no strip clubs.’
Charles Engberg, a neighborhood architect, said Satin’s proposed location lacks parking, proper exits and handicap accessibility, making it unsuitable for a club. But when the club’s attorneys asked if those items could be repaired during remodeling and solved with a valet permit, Engberg backed off his point.
But the pleas to stop Satin moved from zoning to protecting the children and churches from the smut and debauchery that might follow the opening of a gentlemen’s club. Frank Gonzalez has lived in Walker’s Point for 78 years and he doesn’t want strip clubs in his neighborhood. He didn’t have an answer when asked about the existence of Solid Gold, a similar club on 1st and National, other than saying that corner is the cultural center of the neighborhood.
Romana Raves feared for the children and parishioners at the churches and schools surrounding the area. But she seemed flabbergasted when Alderwoman Coggs noted all of those institutions were outside the legally allowed 300-foot distance from the club.
And while the aldermen who represent the two locations were adamant that they had nothing against strip clubs, it was obvious they were moved by demands from outraged residents. Ald. Jim Witkowiak noted that 97 percent of the emails, calls and letters his office received were in opposition to the club.
Unfortunately, that 97 percent will now suffer the consequences of stopping the expansion of a successful business in Milwaukee. Instead of creating new jobs in construction, service and security, opponents succumbed to fear and instead will be left with two empty buildings and no prospects in sight.
But hey, they’ve protected us and the children from those perverts.