The owner of Omaha’s controversial new strip club says he’s prepared to follow the rules after the City Council expanded its good-neighbor ordinance to include businesses like Club Omaha.
But Shane Harrington said if the city’s intention is to shut down his club, he’s ready to sue.
Harrington, a widely known owner of three other Nebraska strip clubs, said he’s closing on a house in Omaha and plans to open several other businesses here.
“I’m here to stay,” Harrington said. “They’ve made me famous.”
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to expand the city’s good-neighbor ordinance so it applies to all businesses where liquor is consumed during a live performance — including Club Omaha, where patrons can bring their own alcoholic drinks inside.
The ordinance won’t ban the club from operating. But it will make it easier to shut down the club if the business’ neighbors complain about it.
That rule targets establishments that are excessively loud or lead to littering, loitering or various other public disturbances. The council has used the good-neighbor rules to shutter one business, the Maria Sangria bar in the Old Market.
The initial ordinance applied only to places where alcohol is served.
The council’s vote comes after an effort in the Legislature to regulate clubs such as Harrington’s was derailed last week.
Councilman Chris Jerram, whose district includes the new club just southeast of 72nd and Dodge Streets, proposed the change in the ordinance.
During a public hearing last week, several people asked the council to curtail Club Omaha’s business. But most complaints were about the nature of the business, rather than litter or other problems that would be covered under the good-neighbor ordinance.
After Harrington announced in March that he planned to reopen a defunct Omaha go-go club, The 20’s, city officials said they looked for ways to prevent the opening.
But City Attorney Paul Kratz said he’s operating legally, though he said Harrington has found a “loophole” in liquor laws.
The state’s Liquor Control Commission regulates businesses that sell alcohol or that are open to the public and allow patrons to bring alcohol inside.
Businesses that feature nudity cannot obtain a liquor license in Omaha.
Harrington’s club features nude dancers but doesn’t have a liquor license.
He argues that it’s not public because patrons must obtain memberships, which are available at the door, and it doesn’t sell alcohol — customers can bring their own beer, liquor, mixers and food.
But liquor commission officials contend that because anyone can walk into Harrington’s clubs and pay an on-the-spot fee for membership, they are not private and therefore require a liquor license, Executive Director Hobert Rupe has said. That’s even if people bring their own alcohol, he said.
Rupe said it’s up to local government to police such activity and enforce local laws where it makes sense.
The Legislature moved to address the issue this session with LB 632, which would require private clubs, like Harrington’s, to obtain state licenses, making it easier to stop such clubs from opening.
But after a flap over an unrelated provision of the bill, Sen. Tyson Larson pulled it, though the measure could be taken up again in the 2018 session.
Harrington had said that regardless of whether a law is passed by the Legislature, he can alter his operation and remain open.
Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen called on the Legislature to pick the issue back up next session.
“We’re hopeful that can still be addressed on the state level,” he said. “In the meantime I think it’s important to move forward with Councilman Jerram’s good-neighbor ordinance as well.”
Harrington said in an interview after the vote that his business is already a good neighbor. But he said if the city tried to use a vague provision of the ordinance to “bully” his business, he would file a federal lawsuit.
“Chris Jerram wanted to play,” Harrington said. “And at the end of the day he’s made me virtually unstoppable.”
Harrington lost a federal lawsuit earlier this year against Seward County, where he tried unsuccessfully to open a similar club in 2015. According to court documents, Harrington alleged that the county intentionally delayed his application, held “secret meetings” on the proposal and then adopted a new zoning resolution that prevented his club from opening. The court dismissed his suit.
Harrington said he plans to open another location in Omaha, but he declined to say where it would be.
After that, he said, he wants to open a high-end nightclub and a fourth business that he described as an “Internet adult-based facility” where pornography and other graphic events could be filmed.
“The sky’s the limit,” he said.