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Bikini bar foes hope to pray it away

Neighbors hold a prayer vigil to protest a planned club in Valrico.

Published June 17, 2005

PLANT CITY - Wynter spins around a metal pole, her white bikini glowing violet in the black lights.

A man approaches the stage. Wynter holds up her garter for the man's money and he slips the bill in next to her skin.

It's another Saturday afternoon at Showgirls Gentlemen's Club, a "bikini bar" at 4210 Route 92 E.

Here, women in bikinis dance on the central stage for tips, and rub themselves against fully clothed men in private booths for $10 per song.

Because everyone is at least technically wearing clothes, the county doesn't classify Showgirls as "adult entertainment," and it isn't subject to the county's strict zoning restrictions. A bikini bar like Showgirls could open up anywhere.

That's what Bonnie Warren, 58, is afraid of.

A bikini bar not unlike Showgirls is slated to open at 1602 E Brandon Blvd. in Valrico. Although the bar won't be owned by the same corporation as Showgirls, the two corporations share an officer - Jamie Rand.

Rand's lawyer, Luke Lirot, said the new club may or may not be like Showgirls, but that it will feature women dancing in bikinis.

County building official David Ford confirmed that there are "cubicles or booths" being constructed in the club's interior.

The two clubs also have identical external decor: classic Roman columns.

It was the columns that tipped offWarren that the new occupiers weren't opening just another bar. "I said, "I think it's going to be a porn shop,' " she recalled.

Last Friday, Warren and roughly 100 other Valrico and Brandon residents - led by Community Action Summit, a conservative Christian organization - held a prayer vigil at the site of the future bar.

As property owner Susan Calkins glared from the building's threshold, the protesters lined up at the perimeter of the property and bowed their heads.

"This is not a good business," Warren prayed out loud. "It's immoral. It's trash. Father, just keep us from doing things that we shouldn't do, keep us on the straight and narrow like we're supposed to be."

"It's within walking distance of a neighborhood, Lord," put in Judith Redding, 48, of Valrico.

"We're closing this business in the name of Jesus, in your name Lord," prayed Redding's husband, Ray. "We pray you'll rain fire from heaven down on the situation. Soften the heart of the ownership of this building, Lord."

Community Action Summit, headed by former Florida Christian Coalition executive director Terry Kemple, says that the bikini bar will bring a host of social ills.

Citing a study by a conservative Christian advocacy group, the American Family Association, they say that sexual assaults will go up 500 percent.

Warren has heard that statistic, and others. She said that she heard Showgirls has had "over 400 police calls" in the past year.

Actually, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the Plant City club has only had about 55 police calls so far this year. Of those, said Lt. Carmen Rivas, many were false-alarm burglary calls; others were calls for accidents at a nearby intersection called in from the club.

Only three or four, Rivas said, were calls for actual altercations at the club.

"The number of calls doesn't seem to be indicative of any type of crime problem," Rivas said. Nor is the club known as a trouble spot, she added.

Mariah, a dancer at Showgirls who preferred to give only her stage name, said she felt safe working there. "It's a laid-back, really nice club," she said. Security cameras kept her feeling secure, she said, and there was rarely trouble. "You get your occasional drunks, just like any other bar," she said.

That doesn't make Warren feel safer. Showgirls is alone on a highway; the club in Valrico will be nestled between businesses, one of them a cheerleading school, and will be within walking distance from homes.

"It's too close!" she said.

As Friday's prayer vigil continued, Susan and Steve Calkins guarded their property, directing protesters not to cross the property line. A lone counterprotester, Dwayne Freeborn, 46, of Valrico, paraded with a sign saying: SHOW ME YOUR BIKINI. He explained that he didn't want others "putting their morals on me."

Cars drove by on Brandon Boulevard, some jeering, some honking to show support of the prayer vigil.

When one car honked, Steve Calkins allegedly made a rude gesture. The driver, Dante Alindogan, 42, of Valrico, immediately pulled over and got into a shouting match with Calkins that devolved into a scuffle.

As the two shoved, kicked and screamed obscenities, Kemple raised his megaphone to his lips and announced that the prayer vigil was over.

The vigil dissolved as the police arrived. No one was charged. Kemple said that Alindogan called him later to apologize.

Kemple said he would be back to pray again. He is planning a "community protection rally," tentatively scheduled for June 24 at 6:30. This time, he said, his protesters will stay on the opposite side of the street.

Warren said she'll be there.

"Whether the business comes or not, we'll still be praying," she said.

[Last modified June 16, 2005, 01:02:04]

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