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No love lost on male strip club trying to find a home

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 by Austin Monitor

A split Planning Commission Tuesday could not decide whether to approve or deny a permit for the Le Bare male strip club to operate in the Lincoln Village strip mall.


Austin may have a reputation for being the state’s most progressive large city, but Le Bare has had plenty of problems getting city officials to buy into the idea of a male strip club that only admits women. Le Bare already has locations in Dallas and Houston, with the Houston location only a block away from a High School.


La Bare first opened in Austin near the intersection of Riverside Drive and Congress Avenue. At the time, business was brisk, but the city blocked the liquor license for the facility, because it operated within 1,000 feet of the Texas School for Deaf. Lincoln Village, located on the Interstate 35 frontage road in a commercial business area, would appear to be a better fit, and the club signed a 10-year lease at the mall in February.


But nearby businesses and neighbors have been fighting the permit they need to open. Kyle Florio, who works at Vision Source-Highland Mall, has been one of the most vocal critics of the club location, saying it was simply not an appropriate business for the area and would give Lincoln Village a bad reputation.


Damon Howze, the Highland Village Neighborhood Association president, said the neighborhood already had its fill of adult-oriented businesses, with Sugar’s and the Yellow Rose nearby. Both Sugar’s and the Yellow Rose cater to men.


“We oppose the club,” Howze said. “We don’t want to be known as the strip club neighborhood of Austin.”


Agent Jim Herbert said La Bare was not the typical adult-oriented club. Admitting he might be somewhat sexist, Herbert said the women clientele of La Bare would likely be far tamer and well behaved than a crowd at a typical strip club. Nor were women interested in going to some out-of-the-way place for entertainment.


“The whole idea of it is to give ladies a place where they can feel safe and cut loose, but not to feel uncomfortable or trashy,” Herbert said.

For the Planning Commission to deny the conditional permit, the commissioners had to provide a valid reason. Staff couldn’t come up with one, and had recommended the permit with the condition that adult entertainment be limited to inside the club area and that the patio area only be used for drinking.


A first vote – to approve the conditional use permit to permit La Bare to operate as an adult cabaret – went down on a vote of 4-5. Those in favor of the permit were Clint Small, Jay Reddy, Saundra Kirk and Chris Ewen. Those opposed were Dave Sullivan, Gerard Castillo, Mandy Dealey, Paula Hui and Dave Anderson.


Kirk admitted she simply could not get worked up about the permit. As someone who lives along South Congress, Kirk said she has seen her share of clubs, including Cinema West. No complaints had ever been presented to the neighborhood association, and in the case of Cinema West, the clientele was rather discrete.


If a male strip club did exist in Austin, where better than a well-lit commercial location in a commercial plaza, along the frontage road of a freeway, adjacent to a mall? Kirk asked. If it fit anywhere, the proposed location would be a possibility.


Reddy also tried to broker a compromise, asking Florio if there were any particular conditions the shopping center tenants might consider to alleviate their anxiety, such as limiting operating hours. As it is, La Bare would be open after most of the businesses in Lincoln Village were closed and well after school hours.


Dealey then moved to deny the permit. Hui offered a second. Dealey said she thought of La Bare as meeting the letter – but not the intent – of the law. One adult-oriented business is one thing, but to have three in the same neighborhood seemed excessive to Dealey.


Reddy said he would be more comfortable – if they were really denying a business that met the letter of the law – that the law be changed. For instance, if Council decided Webb and La Bare were too close, maybe the real solution would be to set a distance between liquor sales and school buildings at 1,500 feet.


At the vote, the blocs flipped, with one exception. Anderson admitted he was beginning to have doubts about how solid the logic was and abstained. That gave the commission a 4-4-1 vote and no majority.


Sullivan said the case would be back on the Planning Commission’s April 14 agenda. Members asked for representatives of the Lincoln Village management team to be present so they could have some discussion of how tenants were notified before the lease was signed with La Bare.

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