Forest Park amends adult clubs ordinance

After considering objections from businesses, the Forest Park City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to further tighten restrictions on adult entertainment centers, also known as strip clubs, through changes in the local ordinance.

Business officials told city leaders that previous changes have hurt the clubs and their employees. Manager Dennis Williams, of Atlanta, said the holidays have not been "merry" for the workers.

"We're not too happy this year; it's not a good, merry Christmas for employees because of this ordinance," said Williams, during the public comments portion of Wednesday's called meeting. "A lot of our staff has lost their houses, their automobiles, can't afford to keep their kids in private schools, can't pay for medicine for their parents. This just puts another nail in the coffin."

City officials are embroiled in a months-long battle with the owner and management of Pink Pony South and Crazy Horse Saloon. The establishments opened years ago as Clayton County's only strip clubs, and operated as such until January. In 2010, the Forest Park council voted to change the city’s ordinance to prohibit nudity in businesses that served alcohol. The change put the clubs in the position of operating, either as a strip club that didn't serve alcohol, or as a bar that didn't feature nude dancers.

The clubs opted for the status as a bar and restaurant. The decision cost the businesses a client base of mostly men looking for adult female entertainment. Specifically, Williams said, the switch cost the club $2.58 million this year.

"And the losses continue," he said. "I can only imagine the amount of tax revenue the city has lost on alcohol sales. You might want to look into that."

City Attorney Robert Mack, who did not attend the meeting, estimated the loss of revenue to be about $100,000 for each club.

A couple of the changes approved Wednesday night concern specific wording that is covered in another section of the ordinance. "The omission of any reference to display or exposure of 'specific anatomical areas' in this definition is deliberate, because exposure of such areas is prohibited pursuant to Section 9-12-7 (f) and the City's public indecency ordinance," states the new wording under "adult entertainer" and "adult entertainment."

The biggest change is the elimination of a Licensing Board of Appeals, in regards to the ordinance. The ordinance now gives City Manager John Parker the power to "decide all questions brought before him, and [he] shall have the power to suspend or revoke a license or employee permit issued under this Chapter if he finds grounds."

The future of the clubs is uncertain. A hearing officer recommended, in December, revocation of their business and alcohol licenses, based on a finding of illegal activity. The city presented evidence from the clubs' own surveillance cameras that seemed to show dancers exposing genitalia, and simulating sex acts with customers, themselves, and each other. Evidence of sexual activity between dancers and customers in back rooms was also presented.

After the ruling, the city council voted to change the ordinance to allow the denial of a license application on the grounds of a previous revocation. The clubs are appealing the ruling in Clayton County Superior Court. Williams told councilmembers the perception is that the city is targeting the clubs with one purpose in mind.

"You keep saying, 'We're not trying to close you down,'" he said. "Well, you have. But we're not going away. You may shut our doors because of this harassment, but we're not going away."

All Forest Park business licenses expire Dec. 31. Parker said the clubs' applications have been denied because of $31,000 in back taxes owed to the city, and the activity depicted during the hearing. Williams told councilmembers the taxes will be paid Friday.

The city council votes on all alcohol licenses. Parker said he expects the clubs will submit a renewal application in January.