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    Unable to reopen, nightclub sues

    The club's owner contends new rules on parking and landscaping do not apply. Clearwater insists they do. A court is asked to decide.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 21, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- The opening of a nightclub at the city's eastern gateway, which would have included bikini-clad dancers, has been stalled for months. Now the club's future is in a judge's hands.

    The would-be proprietors of Cheerleaders nightclub -- once slated to open early this spring on 3006 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. -- sued Clearwater recently after delays getting an occupational license from the city to allow the business to operate.

    The club's lawsuit claims that city officials are inappropriately trying to force the club's owners to meet new code rules, which went into effect early this year, before allowing the night club to reopen after being closed for several months.

    Under the new city code, Cheerleaders must have two additional parking spaces and additional landscaping -- a requirement designed to help beautify the city's eastern gateway. The club's owners have declined so far to provide either, city officials say.

    The club's lawsuit in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court asks that a judge order the city to allow the club to open immediately under the old rules, which allowed it to operate over the past decade as a nightclub.

    "Once a nightclub, now a nightclub, (and they) still want to be a nightclub," said David Browder Jr., the Clearwater attorney for the owners of the club, once called Baby Dolls. "That's what the suit is about."

    But Planning Director Ralph Stone said the city stands by its position, which is that Cheerleaders' owner Thanh Phuoc Nguyen and would-be club manager Michael Caruso must spruce up the Cheerleaders property and add parking under the new code before opening.

    City planners advised the city's planning board this month to deny requests by the club's owners for exceptions to the rules. The planning board tabled the issue last week and will resume debate after the case is heard in court.

    "They still have an option of taking advantage of a retail or office use, where they can get all the parking on the site," Stone said. Another possibility is that the club's owners could lease two parking spots from an adjacent property owner for their site.

    City officials say that the adult-oriented entertainment at the club has nothing to do with their decision.

    But the appearance of the gateway to the city does influence their thinking.

    "Gulf-to-Bay (Boulevard) was a major part of "One City. One Future,' " said Cyndi Hardin, the city's assistant planning director, referring to the city's plan to improve Clearwater.

    "The city spent a lot of money beautifying the road," she said, "so we want to make sure what goes in along Gulf-to-Bay is first-rate, good-quality stuff."

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