Strip club reduces size of proposed Block venue

Action intended to speed city liquor board approval

July 10, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

A Michigan company has scaled back the size of its proposed "top-of-the-line" strip club on The Block in an effort to speed approval of the project.

The Deja Vu chain has told the city liquor board it plans to keep the current dimensions of the former Custom House Saloon at 18 Custom House Ave. rather than expand that space to nearly 17,000 square feet - far larger than most of The Block's nearly two dozen clubs.

The decision to use the prior club's space means the liquor board will not have to hold a public hearing on a request to transfer the liquor and adult entertainment licenses to Deja Vu. Instead, an informal "conference" will be held tomorrow at City Hall.

It also means that Deja Vu will not need to get approval from the city zoning board. Among those who say they would oppose a variance or other special approval is Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Deja Vu's attorney said club officials made the change because they are eager to proceed, not to avoid public scrutiny.

"They'd like to get things moving," said Lisa Harris Jones. "If it means using the square-footage there now, that's fine. If they decide later to expand, that's what they'll do."

Harris Jones said Deja Vu, with 62 locations around the country, will spend $1.5 million to renovate portions of the second and third floors of the Gayety Theatre building.

The three-story edifice fronts on East Baltimore Street, with the current entrance to the upper floors around the corner on Custom House Avenue.

Liquor board officials said they did not know the square footage of the Custom House Saloon space but said it is considerably less than 17,000 square feet.

Deja Vu's plans have gotten mixed reviews on The Block, with some club owners fearing a loss of business and others hoping that a high-end venue would prompt others to clean up operations.

O'Malley said last week he would like to see The Block just "fade away."

"I don't think it adds a whole lot to the life of the city. I think it looks kind of seedy. And I'm not convinced it's a necessity for keeping a robust tourism industry," O'Malley said.

But unlike his predecessor, Kurt L. Schmoke, he does not intend to try to close it down. Attending to problems such as violent crime, drug abuse and the city's shrinking population are "far more important," he said.

Harris Jones said she thinks city residents and visitors will welcome the club. "I think Baltimore will be very pleased with what Deja Vu will bring to downtown - a top-of-the-line gentlemen's club, the Cadillac of adult entertainment," she said.

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