Real Estate

If Rick's Doesn't Get That TABC License, You Know What That Could Mean: Bottoms UpOff!

Clearly, Rick's Cabaret needs to put the Dallas and Fort Worth mayors on its press-release list. Because in case you missed it -- and how could you, it even made Huffington Post -- Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief and the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport board are suddenly very opposed to the Houston-based topless joint opening up at 15000 Airport Freeway, which -- as we noted more than a year ago -- is but a lap dance away from the south side of the airport and American Airlines' HQ. The club is supposed to open January 20. And, says Rick's CEO, it will. "No matter what."

Earlier today, behind closed doors, the airport board, of which Mayor Tom Leppert's a member, decided to file with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission a formal protest "in opposition to the new strip club's pending liquor license," David Magaña, spokesman for the airport, tells Unfair Park via e-mail. "There is a formal process for this, but no timetable," he says, "though I anticipate will be happening very soon."

TABC spokesperson Carolyn Beck tells Unfair Park that after the protest is filed, there will be an initial investigation "to see if the protest has merit," and if the agency thinks there is, there will be a "full investigation by someone in the field office." At which point a report will be written and sent to TABC's attorneys, who will review the report to see if TABC will actually join in the protest. Which is but the beginning of a very, very, very lengthy process.

The board's decision comes about two weeks after the Fort Worth mayor sent TABC Administrator Alan Steen a letter in opposition, which you'll find in full on the other side. In it, the mayor writes thusly:

The threat of inebriated patrons driving under the influence due to the sale of alcohol at this location will increase the danger to persons commuting to or in the vicinity of DFW International Airport and the headquarters of American Airlines. Both of these organizations are vital to the economy of Fort Worth. In addition, the area surrounding Airport Cabaret will be subject to increased criminal activity including, but not limited to driving while intoxicated and public intoxication as well as various other offenses involving drugs, gambling, prostitution, firearms and engaging in organized criminal activity.
But it's not like Rick's -- a publicly (yes, spelled it correctly) traded company -- didn't give fair warning, as the Friends of Unfair Park will recall. A sign's been up for months, says its CEO, and way back in December 2009 Rick's issued its first release announcing that it was building the club from scratch, which it doesn't usually do due to difficulty in obtaining the proper zoning permits. But in this case, Rick's CEO Eric Langan said he was willing to make an exception: "The property has already been zoned by the city of Fort Worth for use by a sexually oriented business."

The city of Fort Worth doesn't necessary disagree: Spokesman Jason Lamers tells Unfair Park that piece of property is "zoned for industrial use in a way that would allow sexually oriented businesses or other industrial uses." When asked why oppose the club now, days away from an opening timed to meet and greet Super Bowl visitors, Lamers says that Moncrief and the Fort Worth council and the DFW board were simply unaware of the topless joint till only recently: "We're not reading press releases from Rick's Cabaret."

Meanwhile, Langan tells Unfair Park that Rick's is opening on January 20 "no matter what" happens with the permitting process. Which means that if  TABC opts to delay issuing the permit till a hearing whenever, Rick's will be BYOB ... which would allow a topless joint to go bottomless too. And while that's not the plan at present, Langan says, ya never know.

"It's definitely something we might consider after the Super Bowl," he tells Unfair Park. "But it means we can be [an all-nude club]. But Rick's Cabaret is an upscale format. Our plan is to operate that club as a Rick's Cabaret. So it probably won't be all-nude. But it could be. The girls can go nude till we're licensed to sell liquor. They can be nude. It's just not our format. Let's put it this way: It'll be topless, and if they want to take off their bottoms, they can, we just won't encourage it. And TABC doesn't want us to be BYOB because they can't govern us the way they could if we sold liquor."

And, as Beck reminds: With a TABC permit, a law enforcement officer can come in to inspect the joint at any time for any reason. Without a TABC license, that can't happen: "There's less power and authority for peace officers to maintain control of the premises," says the TABC spokesperson.

As for how this hubbub broke out to begin with, Langan's at a loss.

"The city signed off -- and I don't know if the mayor knows this -- but the city secretary signed off on our liquor permit in August," he says.

Randle Harwood, Planning and Development for Fort Worth, confirms: The development of the property got the certificate of occupancy on November 18, Rick's, which took control of the property shortly afterward, received its COP on December 21. Harwood says Frank Moss, the city council member in whose district the club sits, was notified of the pending SOB permit for that property on May 12, 2009

"It's all political," says Langan. "We don't know how this all started. We had a small protest from our neighbors over traffic, and we agreed over Christmas to build a fence. And we thought everything we great. I just paid $4.5 million closing on Monday! I met with TABC Wednesday morning about something else, and they said American Airlines and some county judge are opposed. And this morning we find out the mayor of Fort Worth is protesting, the board's protesting.

"We just had a license issued for the club between Arlington and Euless, and nobody cared we're selling liquor over there. So what's going on? It's all political."

There is one solution, though: "They can always buy me out," he says. "For the low, low cost of $7 million, I walk tomorrow."
Support - TABC (Denial of Permitfor Airport Cabaret LLC) - Dec 22

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky