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Neighbors concerned club will hurt property values Emerald City, an all-nude dance club, will open in a building at U.S. 41 and S.R. 776.

August 5, 2001

Kipp Whaley's neighbors in the Charlotte Trade Center aren't happy he's opening a strip club in their business complex. But they're resigned to it.
After years of legal wrangling, Whaley hopes to open Emerald City, an all-nude dance club, in a building at U.S. 41 and State Road 776. The Trade Center's commercial condominium association, headed by a four-member governing board, fought Whaley's efforts in 1999. But this time around the governing board on which Whaley now serves -- he owns an adult video store at the center -- voted to let him open the club. Some of the tenants and owners said the prospect of a legal challenge from Whaley, who filed a federal lawsuit against the county in December, influenced their votes.
Whaley said he has the law on his side.
"There's one or two people that really don't want me here, but opinions don't matter," he said. "The law matters."
Whaley has fought against, and then used, the law to get the OK to open his club. He first wanted to open it in 1998 in a former Charlotte Harbor restaurant. After receiving an occupational license, he was denied permission to open after zoning officials determined the site was within 1,000 feet of a day-care facility, a violation of zoning regulations.
While Whaley haggled with county code enforcement officials, county commissioners passed an ordinance tightening the restrictions on such establishments. It said that adult businesses must be at least 1,000 feet from churches, schools, residential zones or public recreation sites.
Whaley filed suit, claiming that after initially approving his club, the county kept him from opening at the site and then changed its zoning restrictions.
Whaley decided to go into business in the Charlotte Trade Center, where a nude club would be allowed under the stricter county requirements, but he ran into problems when a property owner there wouldn't sell him the space he wanted.
Since then, the unit where Whaley plans to locate his club has been bought by a man named Andres Benitez, whose only address listed in county documents is a post office box.
Whaley leases the space from Benitez, but wouldn't comment on their business relationship except to say that Benitez is a "bigger fan of the Constitution than I am."
While the federal lawsuit prompted the county to drop its opposition to Whaley's business, his new neighbors have other concerns: property values.
Paul and Maryanne Principato, who own the Consumer Budget Counseling office two doors down from the proposed strip club, have been outspoken critics of Whaley's plan but say they feel like they've lost the battle.
"We've been fighting him for the past year," Maryanne Principato said. "We've tried everything we could to block him."
After six years of rising property values, Principato now thinks the two units she and her husband own will decline in value.
"I don't really think I'm going to get anything out of it," she said. "If I put them up for sale now, I think I might get what I paid for them."
The Trade Center complex has two buildings -- one that faces U.S. 41 and another in the back that is perpendicular to the first. Whaley's establishment is in the latter, facing State Road 776.
Some tenants feel that the first building won't feel the shock of the club opening because Whaley's property isn't visible from those storefronts.
Though they're in the first building, Betty Myers and her husband Terry -- who own Depthfinders Dive Center -- said they are still concerned about the value of the commercial condominiums dropping.
"Nobody really wants (the club) here," Myers said.
Thurston Martin, a commercial Realtor with Coldwell Banker Sunstar, said the tenants' concerns could be legitimate because the presence of the club may cause some potential business owners to shy away from the center.
"At first blush, it would have some effect because of our society," he said.
The Charlotte Players has its offices and rehearsal space in the back building, just down from Emerald City. Members often rehearse at night, when the nude bar will be in full swing.
"We're not happy about it," said Charlotte Players director Judy Malbuisson. "We do have a lease, though. It's not easy for us to just pick up and move. We're here and we're dealing with it."
Emerald City, in a business complex industrial strip at U.S. 41 and State Road 776, is set to open this month. Business owners near the strip club say they are unhappy with their new neighbor and believe the adult establishment will hurt the value of their property.
Owner Kipp Whaley first wanted to open a strip club in 1998 in a former Charlotte Harbor restaurant. He settled for this site at the Charlotte Trade Center.

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