A topless bar is trying to open its doors in north Tempe in what would be the first business of its kind in the city. The proposal for Elite Cabaret comes just months after nearby Scottsdale put restrictions on adult businesses as porn mogul Jenna Jameson bought part of Babe’s Cabaret.
In the wake of Scottsdale passing strict regulations, Elite’s majority stockholder said he expects a tough fight in Tempe.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to roll the red carpet out,” said Jeff Minor, a 53-year-old Phoenix businessman.
Minor is working with a number of investors, including a former Babe’s owner, to build a club on McClintock Drive north of Loop 202. The site is across from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and is surrounded by industrial businesses.
The club is a slap in the face to Tempe residents like Barbara Sherman, a north Tempe activist and former council member. She and other neighborhood leaders have tried to help revitalize north Tempe by fighting what they consider undesirable businesses such as pawn shops, payday loan stores and adult-oriented businesses.
Sherman expects the topless bar will spark a major fight.
“I think people will be very angry and upset and not desirous of having this in the community,” Sherman said.
Tempe doesn’t have a topless club, though most people might think otherwise. The city is surrounded by strip clubs like Le Girls in east Phoenix, Christie’s Cabaret in Guadalupe, Dream Palace in a Maricopa County island and two clubs in south Scottsdale.
Mayor Hugh Hallman, a north Tempe resident, said the spot “is about as removed as we could hope for” from neighborhoods compared with other places in the city. Yet he’s concerned about its highly visible location in a part of Tempe that’s trying to revitalize.
“It’s certainly not adding to that effort, but given its distance, it won’t impact it greatly,” Hallman said.
Hallman discovered the Elite proposal about two weeks ago, when deciding Tempe should review its adult ordinances following regulations passed in Scottsdale. He discovered he was too late when city planners told him Elite had recently contacted them. Still, Hallman wants to determine if Tempe’s rules are more lax than neighboring communities.
“It saddens me that we’re now going to have to be reactive rather than proactive in our planning,” Hallman said.
Scottsdale recently revised its Sexually Oriented Business ordinance, adding a ban on nude dancing and requiring a minimum of four feet between strippers and patrons. The Maricopa County Recorder’s Office is verifying petition signatures to overturn the regulations, which would take effect March 13.
Cities cannot prohibit sexually oriented businesses because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled they’re protected under the First Amendment. However, the city can regulate the impact they have on surrounding businesses and restrict them to industrial areas, which Tempe has done.
The club began seeking city approval late last year and ran into a minor setback because it’s too close to the park in Indian Bend Wash. Tempe requires adult businesses to be at least 1,000 feet from places like schools, churches, houses and parks, and the initial plan put it within about 760 feet of the park. Minor plans to cut the lot in half so the property will meet the 1,000-foot rule. City officials said they haven’t determined if that plan is feasible.
Even if it is, Elite will have to pass several other hurdles that include getting the city to issue a special-use permit.
Minor argues his club will improve the area by fixing up what is now an ugly utilitarian block building that housed several bars including Boston’s Night Club. Minor said he plans a new facade, landscaping and club that will lure patrons with a friendly atmosphere as opposed to just “dirty dancing.”
Minor plans to hire employees of other topless bars who he said are experienced in running respectable businesses that don’t harm neighbors.
One business partner is Richard Crouch Jr., a former Babe’s owner Minor credited with turning the place into “one of the cleanest clubs in the Valley.”
Elite will target men in their late 20s but also do more than other clubs to attract female customers, a growing segment of the market.
“We feel we have a right to operate this type of business in this area and we think we can make everybody happy once any controversy settles,” Minor said.