Activists warn of harm to community if Apex theater becomes a strip club

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June 29, 2005|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,SUN STAFF

For four decades, the naked women inside the Apex theater on Broadway Street have been shown on the screen.

Yesterday, community leaders made their last push to make sure the Upper Fells Point adult movie theater stays that way, warning of the potential harm to the fabric of the community and its future economic development if the venue's owners are successful in turning it into a strip club.

The decision by the city Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals had been postponed since December, when the theater's owners, KMI Entertainment, asked for another chance to sway the community in favor of the $250,000 renovation.

But the lobbying efforts proved unsuccessful, so attorney Fred Lauer urged the board yesterday to adhere to KMI's adult entertainment license, which the theater's owners renew annually through the liquor board. Presenting live entertainment, Lauer said, would merely be exercising a right granted to them all along.

"Our basic premise is we have an adult entertainment license granted to us," said Lauer, who was accompanied to the board by the building's owners for the first time.

Members of the zoning board seemed unclear over how to reconcile the adult entertainment license with zoning codes. The theater is in a "community business district," and all new adult entertainment venues are limited to the city's central business district, including the area on Baltimore Street known as The Block.

"The definitions have been intertwined," said zoning board Chairman David W. Kinkopf. "I'm not sure, when I look at the code, what category we are in now."

Community leaders said they have no problem with Apex in its current form - a little-attended, discreet movie house that has been a part of the community since it was built in 1942 at 108 S. Broadway. Beginning in the early 1970s, it switched to skin flicks but refrains from displaying suggestive posters.

Switching to live entertainment would change that, the activists told the zoning board. The neighborhood is in the midst of a family-friendly makeover, they say, with the city spending $3 million to beautify Broadway's medians and nearly dozens of luxury townhouses to be built.

"The times are changing in this area," said Edward C. Marcinko, an officer with the Upper Fells Point Improvement Association. " ... Broadway's becoming a family-atmosphere area once again."

Lauer countered that the existing adult entertainment in the area - the Ritz Cabaret on Broadway and Chubbie's Club on Eastern Avenue - have not stifled such development, and board member Robert M. Higginbotham questioned why similar establishments should be allowed and not a revamped Apex.

By last night, the zoning board had not reached a decision, but a ruling could be made public as soon as today.

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