By ARTHUR L. MACK
MOBILE — Mobile City Council members voted during Tuesday’s meeting to revoke the business license of Touch of Class, located on 3256 Halls Mill Road, citing it was being operated as an adult entertainment enterprise instead of a general entertainment venue,and for not having an adult entertainment license.
Touch of Class, owned by Joseph Johnson, was cited for providing misleading information regarding the purpose of the club; operating in an R-1 (residential) zone instead of a B-3 or B-4 (business) zone; and operating within 1,000 feet of any existing church, school, park, or residentially zoned area, or within 2,000 feet of any other adult entertainment enterprise.
A resolution provided to the Call News concerning the license being revoked showed there were several findings, including investigations of several undercover officers stating women who were pole dancing at the club did not have adult entertainer cards as required by Chapter 3 of the Mobile City Code.
During the investigations, four women were cited on Feb. 22, six women were cited on March 17 and seven women were cited on May 11. The undercover officers added the pole dancing was performed semi-nude with no nipple coverings (pasties). Additionally, the dancers would perform personal lap dances for a $60 fee while completely nude with skin-to-skin contact.
Undercover officers noted there was no band equipment, which indicated there was no live music, poetry readings or standup comedy shows being offered. Several social media posts and other online advertising for Touch of Class, according to the resolution, confirmed the business was devoted to adult entertainment.
Before the council voted on revoking the license, Johnson addressed councilmembers, saying he wasn’t a criminal. He added that prior to opening Touch of Class, he had another club, the Lions’ Den, that was located near an industrial park and in the county, but yet he had to pay city taxes.
“If adult entertainment was completely illegal, there wouldn’t be an adult entertainment district in America,” he said.
But Councilmember John Williams, whose district includes where Touch of Class is located, said nudity didn’t play a role in the license being revoked.
“That’s irrelevant to this decision,” he said. “The decision was made when three times, he was found without a license … three times conducting activities that are not permitted by the current ordinance. Even if they did have a license, they did not have proper activity. It’s illegal to conduct a business without a license.”
Johnson said the issue was far from over. “Now we take it to the civil level,” he said. “There’s no way I’m going to let them put me out of business for not breaking the law — I did not break the law. They said I didn’t have a license, but I did have a license. Their interpretation of a license and my interpretation of a license was different.”
In other council matters,before the council, there may be a new lease on life for the Happy Hill area of Mobile if buildings that made up the Josephine Allen Projects are declared a nuisance and eventually demolished.
During Tuesday’s meeting, several properties located in the Josephine Allen Projects — 1901 Bishop Avenue, 1954 Bishop Avenue, 1900 Franklin Drive, and 1906 Franklin Drive — were part of a public hearing to have them declared a public nuisance. During Tuesday’s work session, it was announced a grant was in the works to help with the demolition.
“It’s utilizing CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funding, and it’s a result of the bold moves of this council allowing the administration to assign Jamie Roberts (senior director of neighborhood development) to work with the interim director of the Mobile Housing Board (Michael Pierce),” said council vice-president Levon Manzie. “This, I believe is the first major initiative of that new expanded partnership.
“I am excited. The citizens of Happy Hill have been complaining about the conditions of the Josephine Allen Projects since well before I took office and I’m glad that we’re finally able to bring some relief and some respect and dignity back to that property.”
Preliminary quotes for the grant are around $300,000, which, according to Roberts, represents a huge savings from similar work done with the Roger Williams projects.
“A lot of the reasoning why we’re helping them out is because when they were getting quotes on the Roger Williams Projects (which is a similar size), and it was around $1.2 million or $2 million,” said Roberts. “We have a lot of contractors that will recycle when they tear down, so that’s where our cost savings come in.”
Roberts said once the city council officially declares the property a nuisance the demolition process will begin. “The city will take over the process once the council declares the property a nuisance,” he said. “We can enter the property based on state law that way, and then it will be just like any other property that we demolish. It will be bid out by us and we’ll work the lowest bidder, and once they get the permit, they’ll get the contract.”
Roberts said demolition could start as early as late summer.
“There is a waiting period under state law, so once the council declares it, we have to give them sufficient notice to declare it and they have so many days to respond,” he said. “We’re looking at probably August or September for demolition.”
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said there are two finalists for the redevelopment of the Mobile Civic Center property — Cordish Company of Baltimore and Stirling Properties, which is based in Covington, La., and has an office in Mobile. Stimpson made the announcement after several city officials went to Louisville, Ky., to view the Fourth Street Live! Development. He said Cordish, which developed Fourth Street Live!, recommended some of the development be used at the site of the current civic center location.
After a presentation is made, the council will have updates on the project proposals from both developments. A committee meeting will then be held and the city council will pick the developer that will develop the site.
The council is expected to vote on an $18,000 contract with Clark Geer Latham & Associates for a facility condition assessment/consultant services for 23 West, a building located at the Brookley Complex. That building has been cited as one where larger Mardi Gras balls can be held. According to Stimpson, the assessment will include getting with the Mobile Airport Authority, Alabama Power and Mobile Area Water and Sewer System.
“Once we determine that we can go with it, we can have a timeline for renovation,” Stimpson said. “We’re trying to ensure that we can keep the civic center as it exists today until Mardi Gras of 2021. We can’t say when we can start construction of 23 West, but they will inspect the roof, look at the construction integrity of the building, the condition of it.”