Strip club files suit to halt closing

El Dorado owners seek to prevent shutdown tomorrow

`Buy a little time'

City eyes property for renewal project on west side of town

May 10, 2001|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The owners of the El Dorado strip club in downtown Baltimore filed a lawsuit yesterday to prevent the city from closing it tomorrow to make room for an urban renewal project.

A lot of money is hanging in the balance. The club, which the family of Kenneth A. Jackson has run at 322 W. Baltimore St. for 27 years, brings in about $1 million a year in business -- a total of $6 million from 1994 to last year, according to court papers filed yesterday.

On April 11, city officials gave the club's owners 30 days' notice to move out of the building so developers can renovate it into apartments as part of the city's plan to revitalize 18 blocks near the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke signed legislation in May 1999 allowing the city to use its power of eminent domain to take control of the building and 109 other properties on the west side. Last winter, the city paid the club's owners $450,000 in compensation, twice the amount the owners paid for it four years earlier.

Yesterday, the club asked the court for a temporary restraining order against the city. Keith R. Truffer, attorney for the club, argued that the city should give the club more time to find a new location after having "abruptly cut off discussions" last month to move the business to 19-21 S. Gay St.

State law requires a 90-day notice before eviction -- not the 30 days the city gave the club, Truffer said.

"The parties have run out of time to discuss the acquisition of this property," Truffer said in an interview. "This [suit] is just an attempt to buy a little more time to permit the discussions to move forward."

The chief relocation agent for the city, Edward Wilson Jr., told the club's owners Oct. 6 that they would have to move out of the building by Jan. 8, according to court records.

But then the coordinator of the city's west-side project, Sharon Grinnell, said Jan. 11 that the city wouldn't enforce that deadline, according to records. Grinnell said the date was being pushed back because the city had agreed to sell the vacant, city-owned Gay Street building to the club for $450,000.

Grinnell said she would try to help change the zoning on the property to allow for adult entertainment and suggested that the club could stay at 322 W. Baltimore St. until its owners had renovated the Gay Street building, a former cooking school, according to court records.

Committed as collateral

But City Solicitor Thurman Zollicoffer switched gears April 11. He told the club's owners that the city could not sell them the Gay Street building because the city had committed it as collateral on a bond.

The city considered leasing the building to the club but decided it could not, because the club's owners were not willing to sign a lease permitting their immediate eviction if they violated liquor laws,

Moreover, Zollicoffer told the club's owners, the city cannot rezone the property, because city law prohibits new adult entertainment businesses from opening within 300 feet of similar businesses. The Gay Street building is less than 300 feet from strip clubs at Gay and Baltimore streets.

Complaints about location

Jewish leaders also protested that the club would be too close to the Holocaust Memorial, and downtown business leaders complained that letting the club operate on Gay Street would extend the city's pornography area into the financial district.

The club is still searching for a new home, said Truffer.

"The city has negotiated with the El Dorado in good faith," said Tony White, spokesman for Mayor Martin O'Malley. "The city went to enormous extremes to try to accommodate Mr. Jackson's establishment. ...

"No other establishment in the west-side redevelopment area has enjoyed the kind of attention and assistance that Mr. Jackson's business has enjoyed."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.