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    Roadwork to topple the Tanga Lounge

    The original Tampa nude club will make way for highway expansion around the airport, once a price is agreed upon.

    [Times photo: Ken Helle]
    The Department of Transportation wants the land in Tampa on which the Tanga Lounge and Scarlett's sit for road expansion.

    By KATHRYN WEXLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 11, 2002

    TAMPA -- When the Tanga Lounge went from common beach bar to an oasis of unclad dancers nearly 25 years ago, it was a walk on the wild side. Back then, even its name -- an obscure island in the south Pacific -- was exotic.

    As newer, more plush clubs opened, the Tanga hung on to become Tampa's oldest surviving nude club. The reason: its location on the Courtney Campbell Parkway, the concrete ribbon across Old Tampa Bay that brought constant traffic past its lipstick-red door.

    Now, that same traffic means the Tanga's days are numbered.

    The parkway is slated for a facelift beginning in 2004 that will increase lanes and change entrance ramps to ease congestion on Memorial Highway and around Tampa International Airport.

    The Tanga is in the way of progress.

    "Traffic through that corridor is backing up, bumper to bumper," said Ron Glass, interstate project manager for the DOT. "We're widening out at least one lane in all directions."

    First, state officials must negotiate an acquisition price with co-owners Joe Redner and Robert Rodriguez, both of whom have hired lawyers to represent their separate interests. So far, it's been an uphill battle for the state.

    "The procedure is they make us an offer and we go to court," said Redner, an outspoken defender of adult entertainment and one-time City Council candidate.

    Transportation officials are prepared to shell out $1.2-million to acquire the Tanga. Scarlett's, a topless bar and restaurant next door, is worth about $1.4-million, according to Department of Transportation figures, and also must come down. Redner owns that club, too.

    By comparison, the department estimates it will cost $2.5-million to tear down the nearby Red Lobster. The total cost of acquisitions along the parkway is budgeted for about $18-million.

    Redner said he's frustrated that the department's offers reflect the size of the parcels and their location, not the success of the businesses. The state must also pay each business $20,000 to relocate.

    Redner sniffs at reopening either club. Blame Tampa's ordinances against adult businesses, he said.

    "It's not like a restaurant where you can go out to Dale Mabry (Highway) and put it on any busy corner," he said.

    An area like Drew Park, which has scores of adult businesses, is out of the question, Redner said. "It's not comparable because there's no traffic."

    Eventually, the state will take the land and the Tanga will fall to history. Redner pegs Tanga's last day of business as Dec. 31.

    The Tanga has long held a certain appeal even after liquor was no longer served. Its location directly across from the Hyatt Regency Westshore made it a favorite among some visitors. When a homeless man accidentally set the place on fire, causing minor damage, the Detroit Lions' traveling press corps held a moment of silence.

    A naked man in a red Jeep cruised the club's parking lot Monday afternoon, waiting, he said, for the club to open at 1 p.m.

    "It's legendary," said Paul Allen, publisher of Nightmoves Magazine, an advertisement vehicle for strip clubs and adult businesses. "It's one of the grandfathers. Its success showed people that the Tampa Bay area was ready for additional adult clubs."

    Redner is hardly sentimental about the establishment that helped put him on a national map of sorts. Dearer to his heart, he said, is Mons Venus, his nude club on Dale Mabry Highway.

    In fact, it's been five or six years since Redner stepped foot in the Tanga. He had a falling out with Rodriguez, his business partner, nearly 20 years ago when Rodriguez attacked him, breaking two ribs. Redner dropped the charges.

    Years later, Rodriguez was charged in connection with arson at two other clubs Redner owned and accused of hiring two men to torch Mons Venus. A jury acquitted him.

    Rodriguez could not be reached for comment about his club's upcoming demise.

    Redner's only involvement in the Tanga nowadays is receiving checks for his share of the profits, up to $20,000 monthly, he said. The club is sagging a little because owners stopped sinking money into it when they learned seven years ago of the Department of Transportation's plans.

    "Do I care if it closes?" Redner said. "Not if I'm compensated."

    -- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Kathryn Wexler can be reached at 226-3383.

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