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New Port Richey takes issue with 727 Lounge nightclub's naughty deal

NEW PORT RICHEY — The e-mail was so racy that council member Rob Marlowe dared not detail its contents at Tuesday night's meeting.

But here's what it included: A copy of an undated flier with the image of a scantily clad woman that advertised "Naughty Nightie Night Thursdays" at the 727 Lounge, a new bar in downtown New Port Richey. Women in lingerie get in free, the ad says.

Not exactly the kind of event envisioned for the downtown.

"I was very disappointed," said council member Marilynn deChant. "Landlords need to know who they're renting to."

Turns out the 727 Lounge's landlord is a familiar face to downtown advocates.

The building owner is a corporation headed by Joseph DeLuca, a longtime member of the city's land and development review committee as well as a former board director — and current economic development committee member — of Greater New Port Richey Main Street.

DeLuca's property also houses the offices for Greater New Port Richey Main Street.

Council member Judy DeBella Thomas, who is also the executive director of the Main Street program, said Wednesday she knew nothing about such activities inside her neighbor's space. Though she had not talked about it with DeLuca, she said he probably didn't know anything about it, either.

"I think he'd be appalled to see that going on, and I think he'll certainly address it," said Thomas.

DeLuca did not return phone messages Wednesday.

He is a real estate investor and landlord who has donated to a number of political campaigns over the years, including former city mayor Dan Tipton's run for clerk of circuit court last year as well as the 2008 campaigns of Sheriff Bob White and School Superintendent Heather Fiorentino.

He is also the former owner of what was once called Club 54, an adult entertainment business at Grand Boulevard and State Road 54, county and court records show.

While officials expressed concern about future events at the 727 Lounge, bar owner Todd Swearingen says there will be no more Naughty Nightie Night Thursdays.

In fact, he said the flier that council members recently received is three months old. The club held the event one time in November, he said, and it flopped.

"Nobody showed up," he said. "We don't even do that any more."

Swearingen opened the 727 Lounge at the site of the former Hot Shotz bar last fall. Hot Shotz gained notoriety months earlier after a man was shot and killed just outside the bar during the Chasco Fiesta celebration.

By city ordinance, adult entertainment clubs are prohibited in the downtown district. City police say they are looking into whether the club may hold future events that would meet the ordinance's very detailed definition of adult-oriented businesses.

Since October, police have had 13 service calls at 727 Lounge, none of them serious, said Cpt. Jeffrey Harrington.

Steve Shurdell, vice-president of Greater New Port Richey's board of directors, said the situation illustrates the dilemmas that downtown landlords face. They want to attract the businesses that are on people's "perfect world wish list," from wine shops to art stores.

But those businesses might lack the capital and resources to stick around long. And the landlords still have open spaces they need to fill.

"The problem is that economic reality figures in," he said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

New Port Richey takes issue with 727 Lounge nightclub's naughty deal 02/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 10:27pm]
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