After hearing from more than a dozen downtown Milwaukee business owners who said their operations would be in jeopardy if a strip club proposed for Old World Third Street is granted a license, a Milwaukee Common Council committee on Monday delayed a vote on the issue.
"After listening to the BID and the Grand Avenue mall owner, the secondary affect is a real issue," said Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, who made the motion to postpone the vote.
The Licenses Committee voted 3-2 to hold the matter with Aldermen Tony Zielinski and Jose Perez voting against delaying the vote. Zielinski, who chairs the committee will set the date for the next meeting.
Attempts by Silk Exotic owners and members of the Buzdum family to open a strip club in downtown Milwaukee, either at 730 N. Old World Third or 770-772 N. Milwaukee St., have been made since 2010.
[caption id="attachment_128693" align="alignright" width="392"] 730 N. Old World Third is where several attempts have been made to open a strip club.[/caption]
Because of repeated denials by the Milwaukee Common Council, the groups have filed lawsuits against the city. Last week, BizTimes Milwaukee reported that city officials and three entities were working out a deal that would allow the groups to open a strip club at 730 N. Old World Third in exchange for the lawsuits to be dropped.
The club would be owned by Radomir Buzdum and Silk owners, Joe Modl and Scott Krahn.
Craig Ploetz, who is also one of the owners of Silk Exotic, would run the day-to-day operation.
Ploetz promised to operate a high-end club that would cater to business men and women who are visiting the city. Inside the building there would be unarmed security. Armed security guards would walk the premier outside.
Many who spoke at Monday's hearing in opposition to the proposal had done so before. The groups who applied for the strip club license had done so six times before.
Tony Janowiec, one of the owners of the Shops of Grand Avenue, told the committee if the strip club is approved it will be a large slap in his face. The strip club would be less than a block north of the main entrance to the Grand Avenue.
Janowiec, who is working on redevelopment plans for the downtown mall, told the committee he has more than 70,000 square feet of office space under contract with a “very well known” children’s organization and another contract pending with a law firm for 55,000 square feet of office space.
Both contracts are on hold pending a decision on the strip club, Janowiec said.
Janowiec is also planning to convert a portion of the second floor of the mall's Plankinton building into 50 apartment units. Janowiec said he is also concerned about adding more residents to the Westown neighborhood given the possible strip club moving in.
“The greatest (challenge) in the Grand Avenue redevelopment is simply perception,” Janowiec said. “Why would you choose to add more obstacles? We are a 5 minute Uber ride to a number of locations where this would be perfect and less impactful.”
Stacie Callies, executive director of the Westown Association, said locating a strip club on Old World Third, four doors away from the Shops of Grand Avenue and next to several catalytic projects is fiscally short sighted.
“The Central Business District is 20 percent of the tax base and this has the potential to negatively impact the tax base for generations,” Callies said. “Since previous attempts (to open a strip club) there have been a ton of catalytic projects announced and down the line there is a potential for huge projects at Fourth and Wisconsin and the convention center to be expanded.”
Kristin Settle, director of communications for VISIT Milwaukee, said if the strip club opens on Old World Third, several conventions that come to Milwaukee now will likely not come in the future. Those conventions include The Mothers of Preschoolers, which brought 3,000 people to the city and brings in $5 million; Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, which came in 2014 with 3,000 and returned in 2015 with 30,000, bringing in $20 million. And the annual Bead and Button convention brings approximately $1.7 million a year in the city.
Robert Monnat, a partner at Mandel Group Inc., one of the city’s most prominent apartment builders, reminded the committee that the Westown neighborhood has become a residential neighborhood over the last several years. Mandel Group is the property manager of Library Hill and the Boston Lofts, which has a combined 300 residents. Nearly 1,000 people live in the neighborhood.
“The city spent 25 years trying to revitalize this neighborhood to no avail and today it is burgeoning,” Monnat said. “This is inappropriate for a residential neighborhood. Legally you have to put it somewhere. No one is volunteering to put it in their districts. This could not be a worse spot in terms of all the momentum happening there.”
Beth Weirick, chief executive officer of the downtown Business Improvement District told the committee a strip club is a direct conflict with the comprehensive plan the council adopted for downtown.
“Let’s not let lawsuits make decisions for us that we will have forever,” Weirick said. “Be strong stewards for this city. Please, I implore you do not settle. There is a way out of this.”
Alderman Robert Bauman, who represents the downtown area, said the issue is not the operator, but a clash of economic models. In 2010, Buzdum called the neighborhood a "toilet," which Bauman said might have been applicable then, but is now no longer true. He pointed to his own testimony in 2010, where he said you will never attract an American Girl store next to a gentleman's club.
"We have heard evidence as to the negative impact of economic development initiatives, the efforts being made to convert the Shops of Grand Avenue from retail to mixed-use, office and residential, the facts have not changed, if anything they've gotten stronger in opposition," Bauman said. "These are the same people wanting to open. What has changed is the economics on the ground."
Some nearby apartment residents spoke in favor of the strip club, because they like the idea of increased security.
Gautam Pulla, who lives on Old World Third, said the growth of downtown Milwaukee could be aided by the strip club.
“It is one more addition to the diversification of this area,” Pulla said. “Right now, having an empty building actually increases the loitering and homelessness. I am sympathetic to the opposers. There needs to be strict regulation. It can’t operate like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but if we work together on it, it could be beneficial and help everyone accomplish their goals.”
Alderman Jim Bohl, who represents the district where Silk is located on West Silver Spring Road, said he believes silk will be a "stellar operator."