Dave Reid
Eyes on Milwaukee

Strip Club Coming to Downtown?

City committee rules against exotic nightclub on Old World Third, then seems to open door to a location across from Bradley Center.

By - Nov 7th, 2013 05:48 pm

Yesterday, the owners of Silk Exotic, Six Star Holdings, LLC, were once again before the Common Council’s Licenses Committee attempting to obtain a license to open a strip club in downtown Milwaukee.

The location in question, 730 N. Old World Third St., has had a lot of names over the years. Most recently Rusty’s Old 50, and before that Martini Mike’s, and if you’ve been around for a bit longer you remember it as the Velvet Room, which Julie Lawrence, formerly of OnMilwaukee.com, dubbed one of Milwaukee’s first martini bars.  In fact the Velvet Room was quite the place to be back 1999 when it was named Milwaukee’s Best Dress-Up Night Spot.

But do you remember that Mike Kozak and Jon Schweitzer, the owners of the Velvet Room, attempted to take the velvet clothes off back in 2000?  They too were told to keep their clothes on, apparently fearing the ghosts of the Brass Rail and Princess Theater (adult entertainment venues that once stood on the vacant lot next to 730 N. Old World Third St.) would return to haunt the club.

These same fears drove a large contingency, including local business interests and residents from 720 N. Old World Third St., to oppose the Silk strip club. There was a question as to the validity of some speakers: a representative of Siegel-Gallagher, which operates the residential building at 720 N. Old World Third St., had posted a flyer offering residents of the building $100 off their rent if they spoke out in opposition to the club. At any rate, residents from 720 N. Old World Third St. spoke of feeling uneasy and unsafe living next to a strip club and some said they would move if it was approved. Responding to these concerns, John Ferraro, an owner of Silk, offered to provide security services to residents of the nearby building if need be.

Business leaders spoke about the negative perception a strip club would bring and the belief that property values would decline if it was approved.

Stephen Chernof, representing WAM DC LLC, a group promoting development along W. Wisconsin Ave., argued this “will be a significant detriment to our efforts,” and that the group will be unable to attract families and retailers to the area if there’s a strip club.

“It will mean lower property values,” said Stacie Callies, the executive director of Westown Association.

Beth Weirck, executive director of Milwaukee Downtown, argued the city needs to grow the city’s tax base, “not decrease it.”

Atty. Michael Whitcomb, representing Six Star, challenged these claims asking, “what is the largest development west of the river in the last 100 years? The Moderne,” and noted that it is very close to Art’s Performing Center, a strip club.

Support came from local nightlife staff and management looking for places to send clientele looking for high-end adult entertainment. Joel Harris, of Belmont Tavern, explained that, “I do refer them to Silk,” but called it a “lose lose” situation because he is sending customers out of downtown.

After hours of testimony the committee voted unanimously to deny the license. So is that the end of the story?

Nope. Surprisingly, Ald. Bob Bauman, who represents the area, let it be known that there is “a different location in downtown Milwaukee I would have no problem with,” a location where “the city is the landlord.”

Ald. Joe Dudzik joined in, saying “this operator will find a location in the near future” and Ald. Nik Kovac went so far as to say, “there probably is a place for this downtown.”

Centercourt Pub and Grille

Center Court Pub and Grille

The place they are all talking about? The restaurant facility at 1118 N. 4th St., the former Center Court tavern located just across the street from the BMO Bradley Center, inside the city-owned parking structure at 4th and Highland.  Center Court failed to pay rent for months forcing the city to evict them and auction off whatever remained in the facility to recoup some of lost revenue.

The Common Council recently voted to pay the Bradley Center $175,000, to assist in upkeep of the arena, using funds from the city’s parking fund to which the 4th and Highland garage contributes.

It is possible the city of Milwaukee will soon have a tenant that can actually pay the rent and help drive demand at the parking structure to pay for some of that $175,000 “gift,” as Ald. Nik Kovac called it. And that could be a new Silk strip club.

Construction in the Park East



Tomorrow afternoon Wangard Partners will hold an official ground-breaking ceremony for the Avenir, a mix-use building to be built in the Park East. The $20 million first phase of the development will include 104 apartments and 7,000 square-feet of first-floor retail.

Back in July, Stewart Wangard promised Urban Milwaukee that his company would break ground on the project “before the snow flies.” As there’s no snow in the forecast for Friday it looks like he will keep his promise. In fact, construction has actually started already. As is often typical with these official “ground breaking” ceremonies, they are more about photo ops than turning the first shovel of dirt.

VJS Construction Services, Inc is currently bidding out work on the project. It is requesting proposals for the following areas of work: rough carpentry (labor & materials), damp proofing / waterproofing, elevators, masonry – CMU walls only, structural steel, balcony assemblies & railings (design build), metal stud framing, and roofing.

By this time next year there will be two sizable developments, the Avenir and MSOE’s parking garage, within the footprint of the former freeway, with a third on its way.

Quick Hits

  • Help Wanted! Westown Association is hiring a new Marketing and Events Coordinator to replace Marissa Miller who is off to her next adventure. A detailed job description can found at here. The deadline to submit your resume is November 22, 2013.  Send them to stacie@westown.org. And if you’re looking for work in Havenwoods, the Havenwoods Economic Development Corporation has a new job board with available jobs in the area.
  • Did you miss it? Mayor Tom Barrett declared that yesterday, Nov. 6, 2013, was “Historic Water Tower Neighborhood Day” to honor the neighborhood group’s 40th anniversary.
  • According to the Real Estate Journal, the National Ace Hardware building, 1303 N. 4th St., is up for sale. But don’t worry, according to the story National Ace Hardware “will continue operating at the location.”

10 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Strip Club Coming to Downtown?”

  1. Lisa Rosier says:

    Our downtown political, business and cultural leaders are on such a fantastic track toward investing in Milwaukee’s future. Permitting this type of enterprise seems to diverge from that vision, particularly if the City would take on a the role of landlord.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Lisa I guess I don’t understand. Has Art’s had a detrimental impact on downtown?

  3. SFScott says:

    Ha! The Princess Theater…those were the days! As a newly-minted 18-year-old in 1981, I remember mustering the nerve to visit the Princess. (Hey, my dermatologist was downtown, anyway.) 🙂 If was my only visit. If I had known I could access the theater through the Brass Rail bar, I could have saved myself more than a bit of embarrassment. (The drinking age was 18 back then, too.)

    Heck, I wouldn’t want a “gentleman’s club” next door to my condo, either, but it seems like the city-owned space would be a decent alternative. Basketball game attendees and conventioneers are natural visitors to a place like Silk.

  4. Jeff says:

    I understand that the city wants to fill the Center Court space. But a strip club in plain site of the Bradley Center, which attracts families from all over the region? That sounds like a PR nightmare for the city.

  5. Jerad says:

    I think it could work. If visual appeal is the only draw back, I’m sure the City could work out a deal where the outside signage is very classy. The place doesn’t need to scream “STRIP CLUB”, it doesn’t even need to reference “exotic” in any manner either, in my opinion.

    This will probably lead to a safer environment for that block too, as a high end strip club is going to have responsible bouncers both inside and out.

  6. Dave Reid says:

    @Jerad Yup and the owners of Silk are on record, in regards to the Old Third location, that signage would be very minimal. Just “Silk” and the design o the facade could be left up to the neighborhood /city if need be. And I’ll add there is a club much like this one right across the street from the Target Center in Minneapolis and people still manage to go to events there.

  7. Chris Jacobs says:

    I doubt that having Silk there would change the appeal or safety of the neighborhood at all. I think there is far too much emphasis on “shielding all the children” going to the Bradley Center. Sometimes I think people equate the BC to a daycare center. Remember when there was a dumpy adult book store in plain sight at Sidney Hih? Art’s doesn’t change the overall Water Street area at all. The real problem is getting a successful venture in those buildings that will stay. One could argue that it might not be successful, and that’s fine. However, if you really think about it, the difference between a strip club (Silk), night club, or bar (like Coyote Ugly) is pretty minimal. They are all adult oriented venues and not horribly corrupting the children.

  8. Jeremy says:

    Doesn’t this seem a bit underhanded by the Common Council? You can’t put your business where you want it but if you still want it, it must go in the building I own where you can pay me rent. It seems very extortionist in nature. No problem with a strip club, just think this is poor form by the City of Milwaukee.

  9. Patty PT says:

    My favorite part of the Licensing Committee meeting on Silk was watching Alderman Zielinski, the Chair of the committee, ask one of the owners to describe what happens in the Champagne Room.

  10. Dave Reid says:

    @Patty PT I must say that was pretty funny.

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