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Controversial bikini bar in Valrico closes its doors

VALRICO — Showgirls Men's Club, a lightning rod for protesters over the last three years, is gone.

A group of investors will turn the bikini bar at 1602 E Brandon Blvd. into a hybrid sports bar and nightclub with live music and karaoke.

Although plans had been in the works for months, owners decided on Sunday to close, and shut down the bar that evening.

"It was a quick decision," said Mike Jordan of DMC Holding Co., which bought the building and the name of the club's former owner, Gemini Property Ventures.

Owners say the Hi-Life Bar and Grill will offer at least 14 flat-screen televisions, a dance floor, karaoke and comedy nights, and possibly a full kitchen. They are shooting for an opening date before the Super Bowl on Feb. 1.

"It's not going to be a sports bar and it's not going to be a nightclub," said Chris Jordan, 37, who is buying the club with his brother Michael and Dave Langsam. "It's going to be a combination of everything."

"There are going to be certain residents," he added, "who are going to be super-excited that it's a new place."

Like Terry Kemple, for example. The president of Community Issues Council led a protest against Showgirls in 2005, before the club even opened.

"How about that?" said Kemple, 62, said when told Showgirls is no more. "That's exciting."

Kemple and other opponents of Showgirls, including then-County Commissioner Ronda Storms, predicted a rise in crime should the bar open.

"It's called prostitution," he said Wednesday. "And I don't mince words about that."

The county delayed permission to open the club, citing inadequate parking. The club fought back, and eventually got a court order allowing Showgirls to open in February 2006.

The county hit back with rules requiring licenses for dancers and club owners, and forbidding touching between dancers and customers. The parent companies of Showgirls and Tootsies, another east Hillsborough bar, sued to have the ordinances thrown out.

In September, the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the new rules, which include bikini bars under the definition of an adult establishment.

Luke Lirot, who represented the clubs, called the ruling devastating.

"The new definition basically damages those businesses beyond recognition," he said. He said he intends to appeal the lower ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Showgirls got a legal consolation prize on October, when a U.S. District Court awarded Gemini Property Ventures just under $50,000 — paid by the county — for losses while Showgirls sat idle.

The bar didn't become a crime magnet as critics had feared. Earlier this year, Cpl. Luther Core of the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office vice squad said that his office had not heard complaints about the bar.

But neither was it prospering. The small parking area proved to be more than enough for the traffic. Gary Mack, the former Gemini owner, told the Times several months ago that Showgirls was breaking even.

Mack could not be reached for comment for this story.

In recent months, new owners obtained the zoning they sought from Hillsborough County to serve alcoholic beverages on an outside patio. With a slow Christmas holiday approaching, Chris Jordan said, Sunday seemed like as good a night as any to close Showgirls for good.

That suited Terry Kemple just fine. "We knew from the outset that it probably wasn't going to do well," he said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (813) 661-2431 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

Controversial bikini bar in Valrico closes its doors 12/24/08 [Last modified: Saturday, December 27, 2008 12:57pm]
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