LINCOLN — Gregg Johnsen got worried when he learned a proposed bikini bar next to his business was planning to hire six to eight off-duty police officers.
“If this business needs that much security staff, what does (the owner) think is going to be happening there?” he said.
Johnsen, owner of AAA Electrostatic Painting at 72nd and Blondo Streets, was among the hundreds of people who spoke out against plans for Kandi’s, a bikini bar on the southwest side of the same Omaha intersection.
Wednesday, the state liquor board sided with opponents and the Omaha City Council in denying Kandi’s a liquor license.
Chairman Bob Batt said the proposed club, which would have featured women dancing in bikinis, wasn’t a good fit for the neighborhood. And he said the large number of opponents weighed heavily on commissioners. The decision wasn’t based on the owner’s character, Batt said.
The Liquor Control Commission’s 3-0 vote to deny the license was met by applause from opponents.
“The opponents in this case were probably 30 times bigger than we’ve ever seen,” Batt said after the vote. “This is a record, as far as opposition goes.”
Originally, Ray Kurtzuba was planning to open a bikini bar called Candyland at 7215 Blondo St., the former Mt. Fuji Inn. He had envisioned a club that would include private rooms for private dances, but scaled the private rooms back in response to concerns from neighbors.
He also agreed to rename the club to Kandi’s, as to not confuse children with the Candyland board game of the same name. Kurtzuba is a former owner of the now-closed Orange Weasel nightclub in Omaha.
After the commission’s vote, Kyle McGinn, Kurtzuba’s attorney, said his client’s next steps were up in the air. Kurtzuba could, for example, appeal the commission’s decision to Lancaster County District Court.
Hobie Rupe, the liquor commission’s executive director, said Kurtzuba has 30 days to do so after the commission’s order comes out, which should be sometime next week.
McGinn noted that Kurtzuba is leasing the building and has already made “significant capital investments” at the site.
Hundreds of people pushed back against Kurtzuba’s proposal, and the Omaha City Council in July recommended that the liquor commission deny the club a liquor license.
The commission received 463 written complaints from citizens, and nine people opposed granting the club a liquor license during Wednesday’s hearing, including State Sen. Theresa Thibodeau of Omaha, who said the establishment could invite sex trafficking.
Others argued that the club would add traffic to the busy corridor and said a bikini bar shouldn’t be near a Dairy Queen and Bowling Green Park. A bit farther east along Blondo is St. Pius X/St. Leo Elementary School.
“This (area) has become a great source of pride for us,” said Martha Wharton, who has school-aged kids.
But McGinn argued that the area was already busy and noted that Kurtzuba successfully holds a liquor license at the West Lanes Bowling Center near 72nd and Dodge Streets. McGinn said the off-duty police presence that had been planned showed that Kurtzuba had safety in mind.
And despite any political, religious or moral objection to Kurtzuba’s club, McGinn said, the proposal was lawful in the City of Omaha. He pointed out that the building has no windows and said dancers would be clothed when going in and out of the club.
In addition to Kurtzuba, another person, Patrick Stibbs, who owns an ad agency, spoke in support of Kurtzuba. They’ve known each other for 29 years, he said, and he has done work for Kurtzuba in the past. Kurtzuba also submitted signatures from people who supported the club.
Will Acosta-Trejo, an assistant attorney for the City of Omaha, applauded the commission’s decision and the citizens who spoke up. “It showed that citizen mobilization really does work,” he said.
Acosta-Trejo said the city may oppose any plans Kurtzuba might have for a bikini bar elsewhere in the city.