A widely known and litigious Nebraska strip club owner threatened to sue the City of Omaha if the City Council votes to require that a new club abide by the city’s good neighbor rules.
Lincoln businessman Shane Harrington, during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, offered a passionate defense for his business model at Club Omaha, 7301 Farnam St.
“We don’t have to do illegal activities because we have a great business plan that works,” said Harrington, who added that his business helps the dancers, whom he referred to as “the girls.”
City officials have said that Harrington — who has other clubs around the state — has found a “loophole” in the state liquor law.
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.
Harrington’s club features nude dancers but doesn’t have a liquor license.
It is not considered 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.
Councilman Chris Jerram, whose district includes the club, has said he’s looking for a way to close the club.
The ordinance in front of the council wouldn’t ban the club from operating. Rather, it requires that the club and other businesses where liquor is consumed and entertainment is provided abide by the city’s good neighbor ordinance.
That rule targets establishments that are excessively loud or lead to littering, loitering or a variety of other public disturbances. The council has used the good neighbor rules to shutter one business, the Maria Sangria bar in the Old Market.
“Very few good neighbors have opposed this, because they have nothing to fear if they’re following the rules, following the law,” Jerram said.
Several Omahans spoke in favor of Jerram’s ordinance and specifically spoke about Harrington’s club. The council agenda item included a petition that asks the council and Mayor Jean Stothert “to do everything in their power to prevent the club from opening.”
The council is expected to vote on the ordinance at its next meeting.
Harrington said the city is targeting him and his business.
“It is clear that you’re going to use the ordinance to try to close my business,” he said.
He asked that Jerram recuse himself from speaking about the issue, citing the fact that Jerram’s former longtime law partner is a lobbyist who frequently represents liquor license applicants.
Harrington also asked for a public apology from Jerram for statements the councilman made to a television news station last weekend.
He said if Jerram doesn’t comply, he will file a lawsuit against Jerram and the city in federal court.
Harrington concluded: “I hope it didn’t come off as abrasive too much, but you’ve got to understand I have to run a business.”
Jerram said he’s not concerned by the lawsuit threat.
“Being a lawyer for 25 years, I’ve been threatened before, and I know where the courthouse is and I know how to get there,” he said. “If you don’t want to be a good business, if you don’t want to be a good neighbor and follow the rules, then you have something to fear.”
As Jerram was speaking, Harrington sighed loudly and walked out with a few others. Security followed him out the door of the council chambers.
Councilwoman Aimee Melton, also an attorney, said she’d represent Jerram pro bono.
That would likely not be necessary — City Attorney Paul Kratz said after the meeting that the city is prepared to defend itself against any lawsuit.