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Ruling anticipated in Forest Park strip club case

By Michael Davis

mdavis@news-daily.com

A federal judge said he will make a decision by next week that could allow a third strip club to open in Forest Park.

U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story said Tuesday he will rule on a request by Tops Showbar to force the City of Forest Park to grant the strip club licenses that will allow it to operate an adult entertainment establishment, and serve alcohol at the former location of the Crazy Horse Saloon at 3950 Jonesboro Road. The Crazy Horse left the location in August of 2008 and was granted licenses to operate a similar club next door, according to court documents.

An attorney for Tops Showbar Owner Terry Stephenson argued Tuesday in a hearing before Story that Forest Park has unfairly delayed a decision on its application for an adult entertainment license, and in February, illegally denied its application for a license to serve alcohol.

"We also alleged that it was done purposely to deprive Tops of its constitutional rights ... because of its [the city's] longstanding, friendly relationship with the other two clubs in town," Alan Begner, an attorney for Stephenson, told Story.

Tops applied for both licenses in March of 2008, according to court documents, after learning that the Crazy Horse would be moving out. In July, Red-Eyed, Inc., the company under which the Crazy Horse is operated, applied for adult entertainment and alcohol licenses for its new location, which were granted in August, according court documents.

On Sept. 15, the city enacted a 180-day moratorium on approving new adult licenses, and changed a part of its ordinance outlining how distances are measured so as to make 3920 Jonesboro Road, the location of the new Crazy Horse, a legal site for a strip club, according to Stephenson's suit.

On March 23 of this year, the city passed a sweeping new adult entertainment ordinance, which is now the subject of litigation by the Crazy Horse, and which Begner said Tops may challenge as well.

Dana K. Maine, an attorney representing Forest Park in the suit, said the city could not have approved Tops' March application because doing so would've meant permitting two entities to operate similar businesses in the same location at the same time.

Begner said Tuesday that Forest Park's 180-day moratorium included an exception that would've allowed the city to act on the pending adult license application. "The moratorium excuse was used again and again," Begner said.

But William J. Linkous, III, another attorney representing Forest Park, said the moratorium merely gave the city discretion on whether to act on the pending application. "If you look at the language, it doesn't say what they say it says," Linkous said.

After the hearing, Forest Park Attorney Joe Harris denied Begner's claim of favortism toward the Crazy Horse. "We're not playing favorites," he said. "We're not friends with any of them. We have made no decisions based on friendship."

The existing strip clubs in Forest Park, the Crazy Horse Saloon and Pink Pony South, are operated by Jack Galardi, who is suing the city for $70 million in damages over the new adult ordinance. Among other provisions, the new ordinance passed last month prohibits lap dances, close contact between patrons and dancers, and dimmed lighting.

Galardi's attorney, Aubrey Villines, Jr., said Tuesday the recent litigation has been the result of a "landlord-tenant dispute that got completely out of hand."

Villines said Galardi's decision to move the Crazy Horse was brought on by a dispute over rent with his previous landlord, The A Group. "This is a horrible outgrowth of a landlord-tenant dispute," Villines said.