BANGOR – A representative of an East Coast chain met with a City Council committee Tuesday to unveil a proposal that would turn a former family restaurant on outer Hammond Street into an adult entertainment complex featuring topless dancers and cocktails.To realize their plan for the former Pilots Grill restaurant, however, the owners of Platinum Plus must persuade city officials to change Bangor’s current policy on nude entertainment.
As things stand, adult establishments can offer nudity or bar service but not both. The city’s only similar establishment, Diva’s Gentlemen’s Club, offers a full bar service, but its exotic dancers must keep their bikinis on.
John Hamer, assistant city solicitor, noted that the proposal remains in the early stages. No formal application has been submitted.
While the commercial nudity issue was d?j? vu for council veteran Gerry Palmer, who participated in developing the city’s existing rules in the late 1990s, recently elected Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick said it would take him some time to explore the issue.
Committee members agreed to hold a first reading of ordinance changes requested by Platinum Plus at their next regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 9. At that time, the issue likely will be referred back to the transportation and infrastructure committee, chaired by Councilor David Nealley, for additional review later in the month, according to Hamer, who said that this step could require more than one meeting.
Barring any snags, the matter then will return to the full council, which will conduct a second reading and give it the thumbs up or thumbs down, Hamer said.
In a memorandum to city councilors, Hamer noted that proposed rules include:
. Employees of the establishment would have to be at least 18 years old and patrons 21 and up.
. In a change from current rules, the club would be required to stop serving alcohol by 1 a.m., but could remain open for the after-hours crowd.
. Platinum Plus, and facilities like it, would be limited to commercial zoned land, with the exceptions the downtown development district and sites within 500 feet of schools, playgrounds, parks, residential areas and other establishments holding liquor licenses (not counting itself).
. Dancers would be able to display their breasts only. Their buttocks and genitals would have to remain under cover.
According to Platinum’s legal counsel, William C. Knowles of the Portland law firm Verrill & Dana, the chain that owns the Platinum Plus in Portland, its northernmost operation, is headquartered in South Carolina and has facilities in 10 states.
The Bangor site would not be as large as the Portland operation, which has about 40 employees and some 400 entertainers, most of whom are from Greater Portland and all of whom perform on a contract basis. As such, they do not receive health benefits but their tips can be lucrative, he said in response to questions from Palmer.
In Bangor, he said, the company proposed a staff of 30 and a roster of 200 entertainers. The chain’s cocktail servers are female, as are its dancers, though Platinum has hosted a show featuring male talent on at least one occasion. Plans call for an investment of half a million dollars in renovating the former restaurant.
Property owner and former restaurateur Bill Zoidis spoke in support of the Platinum Plus plan. He said he visited the Portland operation after the company first contacted him a few months ago.
“I was impressed with the investment they made in the building,” he said, noting that the kitchen was one of the best he’s seen in Maine. “They’re a first-class operation.” Zoidis said the earning potential made the performing work attractive to college students and single mothers.
Zoidis also noted that Bangor once had several clubs featuring strippers both downtown and on the waterfront. He said the potential for children to be exposed to nudity was greater through cable television than it would be at a regulated, licensed establishment.
Although the matter is far from decided, members of the business community already are weighing in on the issue.
Diane Cormier, owner of Diva’s Gentlemen’s Club, read a three-page statement in which she noted that Platinum was asking for changes she had been asking for since 1997.
“I believe that it is very unfair for a national company to come to Maine and request ordinance changes that are aimed directly at putting me out of business,” she said.
She maintained that as a matter of fairness, her business should have been grandfathered when the city adopted its nudity rules in the late 1990s. She said Bangor’s rules put her at a competitive disadvantage because at least partial nudity is permitted at similar establishments elsewhere in Maine.
She also noted that the city refused to allow her to move her men’s club into a nightclub called Club Chaos that she briefly ran on the outskirts of the city.
Bill Meucci of Family Fun Lanes on Hildreth Street, about 280 feet from Pilots, also opposed the Platinum proposal. He said his business was family-oriented, frequented by children, families, youth and seniors, with leagues, the D.A.R.E. program and Project Graduation using the premises.
“I don’t think this is a place for a strip joint,” he said.
Knowles said there would be no exterior signs of nudity, like statues or neon girlie signs. He encouraged local officials and others to investigate Platinum’s reputation in Portland by contacting Portland police, who he said had conducted extensive undercover operations there, and the owners of neighboring businesses.