Club manager confronts mayor over end of deal

O'Malley defends breaking off plans to relocate El Dorado

`People would sue the city'

April 13, 2001|By Neal Thompson and Tom Pelton | Neal Thompson and Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The manager of a Baltimore strip club publicly confronted Mayor Martin O'Malley yesterday, interrupting a news conference to complain that the mayor should not have ended negotiations to lease a city-owned building to the club.

"What happened to the agreement we made?" Kenneth Jackson, manager of the El Dorado Lounge, demanded during a tense face-off at a community center at 1601 Pennsylvania Ave.

Jackson's family's company, which has run the El Dorado at 322 W. Baltimore St. for more than 25 years, is one of 29 businesses that the city is evicting from the west side of downtown for the first phase of a $350 million urban-renewal project.

The city is using its power of condemnation to help developers build hundreds of apartments and dozens of shops in a run-down area near the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

City development officials proposed moving the El Dorado to a city-owned, vacant building at 19-21 S. Gay St., which the city would lease to the club for 13 years.

But the mayor ended the negotiations Wednesday when the Jacksons' lawyer rejected a requirement in the lease that the club obey liquor laws or face eviction, according to city officials.

The club has been cited several times in recent years for selling alcohol to minors, allowing customers to fondle dancers and other problems, according to liquor board records.

O'Malley remained calm but appeared to be annoyed by Jackson's interruption of yesterday's event at the Shake and Bake Family Fun Center, which about 100 people attended. The mayor was at the center to announce a plan to revitalize Pennsylvania Avenue.

Jackson stood beside a TV camera, in front of a crowd of reporters and others. In a long black coat and fedora, he was mostly polite but insistent in his questions. O'Malley, speaking through a small public-address system, occasionally raised his voice to drown out Jackson, who at times tried to interrupt.

"No offense," O'Malley told Jackson. "But I don't think you would want the city of Baltimore as your landlord."

O'Malley said the city would have to shut down the club if it found violations.

He told Jackson that the relocation of businesses on the west side has been difficult and that moving Jackson's business has been tricky because few areas allow strip clubs.

The mayor said the city realized that it would open itself to lawsuits if problems occurred at 19-21 S. Gay St.

"We would be the deep pockets. People would not only sue you, ... people would sue the city.

"Sometimes [relocations] are complicated, and sometimes they don't work out, and this one didn't work out," O'Malley said.

Jackson asked: "Why not leave us where we're at?"

Jackson said he has offered to renovate his family's building on Baltimore Street into apartments. Instead, the city is turning it over to Bank of America so the bank can renovate the building into loft apartments.

O'Malley said that if Jackson had the $113 million that Bank of America was putting up for the project, he would be happy to let Jackson help redevelop the west side.

"You really should have put in a proposal when we were bidding that property out," O'Malley said.

Finally, O'Malley told Jackson that he has no standing to demand anything from the city.

The city recently paid Jackson's family's company $450,000 for the club's building at 322 W. Baltimore St., twice what the company paid for it four years earlier.

With the failure of negotiations to move the El Dorado to 19-21 S. Gay St., O'Malley said Jackson should pursue a "Plan B," which is to search for a new home somewhere else.

"It's nothing personal, but the city has powers of eminent domain," O'Malley said. "And if you don't want to go to Plan B, I'm happy to go to court."

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