A big plan on the Block

Entrepreneurs' proposal would combine three clubs into one

December 10, 2007|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN REPORTER

A business deal between two well-known adult entertainment entrepreneurs could bring a sprawling new club to Baltimore's Block, according to documents filed with the city's Zoning Appeals Board, which is set to review the proposal tomorrow.

Peter Ireland, the owner of Norma Jeans, and Jack Gresser, a longtime Block landlord and businessman, have submitted paperwork with the city to expand Norma Jeans to two neighboring bars, the Glass Slipper and Mousetrap. Gresser owns the building where the bars are located, according to state records, and he wants the Glass Slipper and Mousetrap out by September 2008.

"We were notified that at that time the lease would be up," said Arianna Johnson, a bartender at the Glass Slipper.

Ireland is asking the city to waive two zoning rules so that he can take over the two clubs. The zoning code states that an adult entertainment venue cannot be larger than 3,000 square feet. Also, because The Block is located in a business district, the expansion of a nonconforming use such as a strip club is subject to special approval.

Ireland could not be reached yesterday, and Gresser did not return repeat telephone calls to his Erdman Avenue office. Both men contribute frequently and generously to state and local political campaigns. In 2005, Ireland contributed $12,920 to elected officials, nearly $3,000 more than the legal limit for individuals.

Gresser owns the entire building at 403 E. Baltimore St. His biggest tenant is Larry Flynt's Hustler Club, which opened in 2003. The Hustler Club is situated on the second and third floors of the building, while Norma Jeans, the Glass Slipper, Mousetrap, and a fourth bar, the Foxy Lady, are on the first floor, with entrances around the corner on Custom House Avenue.

The Foxy Lady is also losing its lease but it will not be used as part of the expansion, according to documents filed with the city.

The move by Ireland and Gresser to create a giant club has been the subject of some discussion on The Block in recent weeks. Some say they are hopeful that Ireland's expanded club could bring in new business. Norma Jeans, which features mostly black entertainers and a hip bar scene, is already one of the more popular venues on The Block. Others say they are angered that Gresser would force out the owners of the Glass Slipper, Mousetrap and Foxy Lady.

"It's putting me out of business," said Lou Hershey, who has owned the Mousetrap for about 20 years and worked on The Block for nearly 30 years. "It's a very rotten deal."

Hershey said he was notified by Gresser about two weeks ago that he would not be able to renew his lease in September. He said he is contemplating taking Gresser to court because the amount of money he will earn by selling his liquor and adult entertainment licenses won't match the amount he might have made if he had sold them as part of a business package.

He said he wants to join forces with the owners of the Glass Slipper and Foxy Lady. "I don't want to get into a lawsuit all by myself," said Hershey.

The Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners oversees adult entertainment licenses. The head of the board, Samuel T. Daniels, said yesterday that such licenses are tied to the address of an establishment and cannot be moved. A liquor license, however, can be transferred in most cases. Daniels said that it would be up to city officials to decide what to do with the adult entertainment licenses at the three strip clubs.

Said Daniels: "That is definitely a zoning question."

The zoning appeal hearing on the proposed club will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at City Hall.

lynn.anderson@baltsun.com

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