Forest Park getting strip club

By Ed Brock

Kings Inn manager Pavan Parikh has no problem with the idea of a strip club being built next door to his hotel on Frontage Road in Forest Park.

"As long as they are in the legal limits we don't see any problem," Parikh said. "We just would like to have a wall between us and them."

About two weeks ago the Forest Park city council discussed the zoning verification issued to Mia Luna Inc., the company that plans to open a club called Pink Pony South on the property where the long abandoned Airline Inn stands. The issue of the club was one thing, but what surprised City Councilwoman Corine Deyton was the size of the Sexually Oriented Business Overlay District in which the Pink Pony and other such clubs are allowed to operate within the city.

"I was shocked, shocked," Deyton said.

The SOBOD, which was approved in 1997, is bordered on the north by I-285 and on the east by I-75, extends down to Forest Parkway to parts of Old Dixie Highway and down to Penny Road in the south.

"I would guess-timate that that's 1,000 acres," Deyton said.

Deyton said she was surprised to hear about the SOBOD and its size, but Forest Park Mayor Chuck Hall said that the council approved the district.

"It was an issue that was done over a period of three months," Hall said.

Hall said the purpose of the SOBOD stems from a U.S. Supreme Court recommendation based on a decision the court had made in a case in another state. Essentially, the district is intended to provide an area in the city away from residential districts, schools and churches for these types of businesses to operate, Forest Park Zoning Director Steve Pearson said in a statement he prepared for the council's green sheets (information pages provided to council members by department heads).

Because the courts review such zones to make sure they are not a veiled effort to prohibit the businesses from operating in the city, Pearson says the zone must be large enough to present these sexually oriented businesses with a "?reasonable' opportunity to open and operate."

So Mia Luna's plans to open a club in the district should be no surprise, Hall said.

"There's been the potential of having it there since the district was passed in 1997," Hall said.

In a previous green sheet Pearson mentioned that the old Airline Inn "has harbored transient people, drug activity and has been a nuisance to the City for over a decade." Hall also said the building has been a source of problems for its neighbors.

"(The club) is eliminating an eyesore," Hall said. "It may not be the type of business that most people would like or condone or visit, but it's a business granted rights by the Supreme Court and we have to abide by those rules," Hall said.

Parikh said they have had problems with undesirable people coming from the abandoned hotel on the Kings Inn grounds, and his company has spent a lot of money on their property to keep it looking nice. The club could be a benefit to the entire city, Parikh said.

"It will give at least 20 to 30 more jobs for the city of Forest Park," Parikh said.

The property in question sits at 4730 South Expressway/Frontage Road directly across from I-75. Also nearby are an abandoned restaurant, Sports Car Service, Ltd. and Kirk Lytle's business, Stonehenge Marble & Granite.

Personally, Lytle said, he has no problem with the club opening on the property and he says he also had problems stemming from the abandoned building, including some break-ins three years ago.

"But we will probably move the business if does open," Lytle said, citing traffic and other reasons. "I just wouldn't want to be located next to a strip club."

Pink Pony South would be owned and operated by the same company that owns Forest Park's only other strip club, the Crazy Horse Saloon on Jonesboro Road. David Rashmir, general manager of the Crazy Horse, said the company, Galardi South Enterprises, would have no comment on the situation.

That's another thing that disturbs Deyton. When the Crazy Horse opened in the early 1990s it started a movement by a conservative Christian group to replace the existing city officials, even though she said that at the time the council had little choice but to allow the club to open.

"We had no ordinance to keep out a nude dancing club because it never occurred to us that somebody would want to open one in Forest Park," Deyton said. "We knew that if we did not approve it they would take us to court and it would cost a lot of money."

Deyton said Hall was a part of the group and was voted into office on the platform of getting rid of the Crazy Horse, but Hall denies being a member of the group.

"They tried to pull me into the organization with them," Hall said. "I would not become a part of them and when I didn't they came to me and said OK, we'll endorse you."

But they never gave him campaign contributions, Hall said, and he said he has remained independent from the groups.

Since the Crazy Horse has been open it has caused "very few problems," Forest Park police Capt. Chris Matson said.

"I think we've probably responded to the stores nearby for shoplifters more than we've gone there," Matson said.