New strip club to open amid disputes

Owner is sparring with city, Catholic Church and Fells Point residents over 2 facilities

March 11, 2006|By LYNN ANDERSON | LYNN ANDERSON,SUN REPORTER

Scores, Baltimore's pricey new strip club, has some odd neighbors. A huge state prison complex looms in the background, and construction has begun next door on a state-of-the-art soup kitchen and job training center.

Brian Shulman, Scores' owner, acknowledges the strange juxtaposition for his latest business venture.

"A soup kitchen next to a strip club and a jail -- it's a marriage made in hell," he said recently.

But even before entertainers take to the stage at tonight's scheduled grand opening, or bartenders pop $700 bottles of Cristal, Shulman, 35, finds himself at the center of two disputes.

The wealthy entrepreneur has sparred with City Hall, the Roman Catholic Church and dozens of Upper Fells Point residents who have found fault with another strip club he runs called Chubbies.

Shulman has accused Catholic Charities, the soup kitchen's manager, of trying to torpedo Scores and says the city backed out of a deal to exchange a large number of vacant rowhouses for Chubbies' adult entertainment license. The deal was negotiated to pacify Upper Fells Point residents who were fed up with raunchiness on the streets outside the strip joint.

The city liquor board recently fined Chubbies $3,000 for a series of violations, including inappropriate touching between a dancer and a patron. Neighbors said club barkers and dancers would simulate sex acts on the sidewalk, and city vice police told the board that the bar was poorly managed.

Now, Shulman says he will turn Chubbies into a gay strip bar called Spectrum. The new club could open as soon as the end of the month.

"I've got a business there," he said. "I might as well run it."

A spokeswoman for Mayor Martin O'Malley disputed Shulman's account. She said that though city officials considered an exchange, they never made an offer because they weren't able to assess a value for the adult entertainment license.

"An effort was made to figure out an assessment, but it didn't work," said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.

Dominick Murray, special assistant for economic development to the mayor, was more blunt: "There was never a deal to be had."

In 2004, Shulman bought the Scores property, a former gay strip club called Atlantis, for $1.8 million. Not long after, he negotiated a deal with Scores Holding Co. -- a strip club franchise -- for the right to operate under the company's logo.

When he bought Club Atlantis, Shulman said, he thought he had permission to operate a lounge on the second floor because the former owner had served drinks there. But when workers started breaking through the ceiling between the first and second floors to create a mezzanine early last year, city zoning inspectors were quick to issue a stop-work order.

Zoning officials say Shulman does not have approval to have entertainment on the second floor. They say that the former owner had permission to do some "retail" work upstairs, but that he never had the go-ahead to serve drinks or showcase dancers there.

Shulman said city officials are wrong and has hired several lawyers -- including his Canton neighbor, former judge and mayoral candidate William H. Murphy Jr. -- to prove it.

Shulman accuses Catholic Church officials of pressuring the zoning board to quash his expansion plans.

The church is uncomfortable with the idea of a strip club operating next door to the soup kitchen, he maintains.

A spokeswoman for Catholic Charities, which will operate the Our Daily Bread soup kitchen, declined to discuss the matter. City officials helped the organization find land for the center, which will cost $13 million to build.

The facility was moved from Cathedral Street because of complaints of aggressive panhandling. It is expected to reopen on Fallsway next door to Scores early next year.

"All I can tell you is that they are doing what they have legal permission to do," said Kerrie Burch-DeLuca, director of communications for Catholic Charities, referring to Scores.

City zoning authorities say the church has not been overly involved but acknowledge that they met with Catholic Charities representatives in February last year to talk about Scores.

Shulman said work on his champagne lounge was shut down about the same time.

"It's the craziest thing," Shulman said. "The Atlantis had dancing and a bar on the second floor, and it was taken away from us."

He said he was equally perplexed when city officials backed out of the Chubbies deal, which had been in the works for about two years.

He says he had agreed as part of a deal brokered by Councilman James B. Kraft, who represents Upper Fells Point, to give up the adult entertainment license at Chubbies and close the bar for good in exchange for about 60 city-owned properties.

"The deal that I was trying to work out, I was negotiating that for the city as well as for us financially," Shulman said.

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