Don’t look now, but the odds have so drastically improved that a strip club in Downtown Milwaukee seems to be an almost sure thing.
Ald. Robert Bauman, who represents Downtown, told me Tuesday that a recent court ruling allowing the owners of Silk Exotic to sue the city for damages for past refusals to issue a license, exposes the city to a penalty that could range to a million dollars.
"The council is going to have to weigh if it’s worth that kind of money to deny the license again," he said. "We face a pretty big lawsuit over this."
The current application, filed this week, is to open a strip club on Old World 3rd Street, but to show you how far along this is, Bauman is already talking about an alternate location.
"We could put it at 4th and Highland, he said. "Where the old Center Court used to be. The city controls that land. That’s a real possibility."
It sounds to me like the council, which historically avoids lawsuits like a plague will go along with approval of the application. And, at least from my point of view, a hot strip club, or any other kind of hot club Downtown sure can’t hurt.
What we have is an absolutely moribund Downtown. If that’s what we want, okay. But if it’s not – if we want a Downtown with some excitement – then we have to do something about it.
And part of doing something is to shed the prudish behavior that so marks our leaders and development efforts.
I talked with Jeff Olsen, the Madison attorney who represents the owners of Silk Exotic who want to put a Silk East Downtown on Old World 3rd Street. This is about the 100th time they’ve applied for a license for a strip club, each time to be thwarted by a collection of blue-nosed citizens with a lengthy history of letting Downtown die.
"Milwaukee is not going to be the Las Vegas of the Midwest," Olsen said. "But there is obviously a prudish attitude there. I find myself in Milwaukee often for court appearances. I can leave my hotel bar and walk outside and it’s just dead. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do."
Let’s be honest here. The owners aren’t in the business to provide a civic service by enlivening Downtown. They want to make money. And their idea is to do it without serving alcohol.
"There are lots of alcohol free clubs around the country," Olsen said. "And it’s not just laws that force them to be alcohol-free. Many choose to do it. "
If you don’t sell booze, you may wonder how you can make money.
"Well," Olsen said, "you have a substantial cover charge to get in. Then there’s the price of non-alcoholic drinks (think $5 for a small glass of Coke) and you can sell food and also make money. In addition if you are nonalcoholic you can let 18-year-olds in."
That right there is probably enough to get every high school senior class in the area to start its own petition drive. Kids are good at that sort of thing.
"Fifty dollars would be at the high end of a possible cover charge," Olsen said.
So, let’s cut that in half and make the cover charge $25. We’ll charge $5 for a soft drink with a two-drink minimum. Then it’s another $5 for a bag of chips or Frito’s or pretzels. Non-alcoholic beer costs $10.
At prices like that you can be pretty sure neither the riff nor the raff will be stopping by.
"This is for well-heeled business people," Olsen said. "That, and conventioneers."
Call me crazy but that seems like just the kind of people we’d like Downtown.
I don’t claim that a strip club will solve all the Downtown problems.
We should create two live theater companies in Grand Avenue (affectionately known as Ghost Avenue). We should provide tax breaks for uniquely Milwaukee retail shops, galleries and restaurants. Nobody wants to go to Grand Avenue to shop at nationals like The Gap or eat at a chain like Subway.
Have a couple of clubs that feature live music. Create a spot for buskers. Get high school drama clubs to perform a repertory of scenes from Shakespeare and let people donate to support the efforts.
If we open our minds we could actually create a Downtown with some pizzazz. A strip club is one step.
One of the big complaints from residents and retail stores in the area is that a strip club doesn’t fit development plans. Apparently neither do good restaurants, great bars, live music or anything else that might actually be a draw for people.
The history of strip clubs in Milwaukee is that they are no more trouble than your average neighborhood bar.
"One thing about these clubs is they have lots of security," Olsen said. "It’s to protect the dancers and to police the area around the club so there is no disruption or bad behavior."
I tried to reach the two leaders of Downtown organizations, but I’ve been doing this long enough that I can pretty much tell when someone is dodging me. This is one of those times.
My guess, however, is that even if they continue to fight against naked women dancing Downtown, they are fighting a losing battle.
Let the bump and grind begin.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.