Broad Street strip clubs could move to industrial zones under ordinance

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Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019
(News 12 First at 5)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – The future of two strip clubs is uncertain in downtown Augusta. They’ll have to close when the owner dies, but they could also move to a different location.

The strip clubs will be allowed to operate in industrial zones only, but that also means the owners could not serve alcohol to their patrons. The adult store in one of those areas currently don’t have much success.

The shop on Gordon Highway had to fight for years to open. The city paid them $500,000 after a judge found the adult entertainment ordinance was wrong, not the businesses. But that would still leave the clubs far from any other businesses or homes.

“You're in a completely different environment altogether,” said liquor store owner Bill Prince, whose business is right next to the Broad Street clubs.

To keep the poles up and the doors open, Discotheque and Vegas Show Girls would have to set up shop in an area much like Gordon Highway. Prince understands the issue those businesses may have with the change.

“That’s like telling me I’ve got to move. You lose all your customers.”

Jeremie Merriweather is a patron of Discotheque.

"It’s a place you can come with your fellas. You can talk about the game, y'all can talk about what’s going on at work or anything like that,” Merriweather told us.

But all things must come to an end.

“I wouldn’t be completely heartbroken.”

So to be clear, the ordinance covers all adult entertainment including strip clubs, video shops, dance halls and such businesses. We've read through the ordinance and goal outlined in the end is drive all adult entertainment out of Augusta.

Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2010
(News 12 at 6 O’Clock / NBC 26 at 7)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – Augusta Commission has voted not to change the strip club ordinance in the city.

That means the current strip clubs in Augusta will close once the owners die because the permit cannot be transferred.

News 12 ‘s Ciara Cummings attended the Tuesday meeting, and she says things went from heated back to smooth sailing quickly.

Whitey Lester owns the strip clubs on this part of Broad Street. Discotheque is one of them, and it's been there since 1966. But it won't anymore when the owner dies.

Commissioners heard Augusta neighbors saying the decision made years ago should stand, and they listened. Leaders quickly issued a motion Tuesday afternoon to deny the change that would allow the family of a strip club owner to inherit the two clubs. That vote was unanimous.

The developer who started the petition against the clubs says this is a win for all of Augusta.

“It shows that when you care about an issue and you do call your commissioner and write tons of letters, tons of emails, the commission will respond to that and protect the will of the people,” said Joe Edge.

Monday, Feb. 4, 2019
(News 12 at 6 O’Clock / NBC 26 at 7)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) – A petition to get rid of the strip clubs on Broad Street now has the support of a thousand people. A change in a city ordinance could keep the last two strip clubs in downtown Augusta open indefinitely.

Augusta has danced around the rules of strip clubs for as long as the dancers have danced in them. That law does not allow the owner's family to inherit these clubs

Along with the steady stream of cars on Broad, business on Friday night is still flowing near the clubs.

"They want to continue the business and the question then becomes, can a heir inherit the business to continue to be operational?’," said Robert Sherman, the director of Augusta Planning and Development.

In 2002, Augusta leaders say they found a correlation between strips clubs and crime. The study read: "among the acts of criminal behavior are disorderly conduct, prostitution, child molestation and drug trafficking."

So the following year, they changed the ordinance to get the clubs out: "to prevent the occurrence of criminal behavior

"And that's what the ordinance was based on, as one commissioner ask the other day, is it archaic? And it may need to be looked at again.”

Across the last four years, Discotheque had 22 calls to 911, while Vegas show had six.

While some argue the basis of the ordinance is outdated and business at the clubs still pulsate like the music inside, the law does still stand just as straight as the poles.

The Committee voted unanimously to approve the change in law last Tuesday, but since that vote Commissioners have told News 12 they’re “divided”.

The vote is expected to happen Tuesday.

Friday, Feb. 1, 2018
News 12 at 6 O'clock

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Augusta-Richmond County commissioners are considering changing an ordinance that will eventually close the only two strip clubs in Downtown Augusta after their owner passes away.

A vote on Tuesday would determine if strip clubs, Discotheque Lounge, and Vegas Show Girls, remain open.

Ahead of the commission meeting, a long-time business neighbor of the clubs is responding.

Sidney's Department Store has been a staple on 6th and Broad St since 1894.

"When I was a child there were go-go dancers. They wore boots and clothes. It just kind of evolved into this," said the Owner of Sidney's, Steven Fischman.

The Discotheque Lounge and Vegas Show Girls are owned by Whitey Lester.

"You are the first person to ask me, his across the street neighbor, what I think about the whole thing," said Fischman.

Fischman says, after 30 years neighboring the strips clubs, his business has never been affected.

"His people clean up the street. There's never any issue with someone trying to vandalize the front of the buildings," said Fischman.

News 12 uncovered a total of 28 Richmond County Sheriff's Office responded to at least a total of 28 incident over the last four years.

14 of those incidents were for simple battery and assault.

Commissioner Sean Frantom says he believes the vote will be to keep the ordinance as is, which would eventually lead to the two strip clubs having to close their doors.

"I do not support transferring this license. I think that it would open us up to possible litigation, possible clubs that closed before to come back and say 'Hey I want to open my club and transfer it again," said Frantom.

Neighbor to the strip clubs and owner of Sidney's says the decision is personal.

"I won't be sad and I won't be elated. What's sad is seeing a long time neighbor getting sick and not being able to continue. That's what's sad," said Fischman.

Commissioners are considering a compromise that involves Augusta's industrial zones.

Commissioner Frantom says the commission is thinking of adding an alcohol ordinance to those zones for adult entertainment clubs.

Thursday, January 31st, 2018 / News 12 at 11 O'clock

AUGUSTA, G.A. (WRDW/WAGT) -- People who were expecting Augusta's adult dance clubs to close may be in for surprise.

Next Tuesday, the commission will be voting on reversing an ordinance that says the business license for both strip clubs on lower Broad Street will expire when their owner passes away.

The Adult Entertainment Ordinance has been a law since the 1990's, but all of a sudden, it's come back up in commission.

If the commission decides to reverse it, the business license would pass to the owner's heir--his son--and the clubs would stay open.

It's a tale of two cities stretching the length of Broad Street.

"It's been this way for years--this is not something new," said Joe Edge, the owner of Sherman and Hemstreet Real Estate. His company has a vested business interest in that area, and have sold property to several other business owners.

"They get to 5th street and they say 'make a U-turn, we ain't going down there. We cannot open our office, or we can't open our apartments, near the strip clubs.'"

The company itself also recently built their new headquarters downtown. Edge says clients eager to move in bought property with the expectation the city would honor its own ordinance.

"It certainly weighed in on our decision to buy--and bank on lower Broad coming back like upper Broad." he explained.

Down here, he says, it's hard to inspire new growth.

"Pawn shops, tattoo parlors, things of that nature...not high revenue-generating retail, office, and definitely not multi-family," Edge told News 12, when asked what he thought the area had to offer presently.

So far, nearly 200 people have signed a petition against the strip clubs.
The clubs were already grandfathered into downtown years ago, and technically violate city code.

"Personally, I don't see them as bringing a lot of value to the local economy," said small business owner Andrew Paine.

Paine told News 12 he considered moving downtown, but ultimately decided Grovetown, not Augusta, would be the better fit.

"To be honest with you...I think it needs a lot of work. It's had a bit of a bad rep over the years," he said.

He also admits he's very surprised this came back up, with so much of the focus on revitalizing downtown Augusta lately.

"For change to happen, there has to be change," said Paine.

"It just came out of nowhere," added Edge. "Everyone was fully expecting these clubs to go away sometime soon. And now all of the sudden, quietly, it's voted on in a committee meeting."

Edge says the biggest surprise to him is how little people know about this. Several people News 12 spoke to today say they had no idea this was happening either, even though commissioners have already pushed it through to a full-fledged vote.

Edge is encouraging anyone who feels strongly about this to pack the commission chamber next Tuesday at 2pm.

To sign the petition, copy and paste this link into your internet browser: