Neighbors, Others Oppose Strip Club

June 4, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Heartside Neighborhood Association interceded with the City Commission recently for help in keeping a proposed strip club from being established in the Heartside neighborhood.

Businessman Mark London, who also owns a topless bar called Sensations near Centerpointe Mall, has proposed a new strip club, and possibly an adult book and novelty store, on the site of the old Sennett Steel factory at 234 Market Ave. SW.

Planning commissioners approved the site plan last month, but whether or not there was adequate parking on the site was still at issue.

In a March 28 letter to city commissioners, the association’s co-presidents opined that the proposed Showgirl Galleria “positions itself squarely against the family values that make the greater Grand Rapids area such a wonderful place to raise children.”

Among the letter’s co-signers were Fountain Street Church, LaGrave Avenue Church, First Congregational Church, the YWCA of Grand Rapids, Vertigo Music and ACCESS.

Co-presidents William Holmes and Richa went on to assert:

“Given the economic conditions in the greater Grand Rapids area, we believe the women recruited as employees of this ‘adult’ entertainment venue may be encouraged to believe exploiting themselves is a viable way out of economic hardship. We firmly disagree with this position. Various agencies have located in the neighborhood to assist women in finding dignified solutions to their economic challenges.

“This proposed adult entertainment venue and businesses like it in the ‘Sexually Oriented Businesses’ category serve as models for some of the kinds of illegal and unacceptable behavior businesses and neighbors have been fighting for years in the Heartside/Downtown neighborhood.”

The association pointed to research compiled by the American Center for Law and Justice that identifies the adverse secondary effects sexually oriented businesses can have on communities.

Further, Holmes and Richa asserted that locating an adult entertainment venue in the Heartside/Downtown neighborhood “directly contradicts the city’s stated intention” to make the industrial zone in the Market Avenue area attractive for residential and small business use. They questioned whether venture capitalists and developers could market Heartside as an attractive family-oriented neighborhood if there was a strip club right in the middle of it.

Richa addressed city commissioners recently on the subject, claiming that wide opposition to the club is coming “from all across the spectrum.”

He said the Planning Commission failed to notify the Heartside Neighborhood Association when planners held a public hearing on the proposed club even though he had asked repeatedly that both he and the neighborhood association be notified when the public hearing was scheduled.

“Essentially what’s happening is that this guy wants to pimp our neighborhood. He’s selling sex in order to make money. They’re coming in to model that for our whole neighborhood,” Richa remarked.

He said the association has been trying to drive the pimps and prostitutes out of the Heartside neighborhood, and the concern is that an adult club might spark an increase in that kind of illegal activity.

The Heartside Neighborhood Association board recently had a lengthy discussion regarding the strip club, Richa said. Afterwards, the board took a straw vote and voted 25-2 against supporting the club’s development.

Richa pointed out that under the city’s new master plan, the industrial zone in question is slated to become a “mixed use” zone.

He asked the City Commission to either rewrite the definition of mixed use or to make an official interpretation that the mixed-use designation was meant to exclude establishments such as adult entertainment venues.    

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