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The Wabasha Bookstore

The City of Duluth Sponsored and Financed the Wabasha Bookstore
Another story you'll never read in the Duluth News-Tribune
Source: EricRingsred.com

This is all about another of the City of Duluth's "dirty little secrets"—involving the city's rôle in relocating the Wabasha Adult Bookstore in 1998 to its current location on East First Street.

The story begins with former Mayor Gary Doty and A&L Development—and their scheme for a "Technology Village" ... Remember the "Silicon Valley of the North"? Remember the "1000 jobs paying $50,000 per year each"? Remember how the building was "100% rented out to high-tech businesses" before construction even began?

One problem though: the Wabasha Adult Bookstore was located in the middle of their proposed project.

In June of 1998 Rob and Mike Link, of A&L (i.e., "Anderson&Link") Development, contacted Eric Ringsred on behalf of the City of Duluth, in several meetings arranged by a local realtor.

They were offering Ringsred a deal to relocate the Wabasha to one of his properties on East First Street. This seemed rather peculiar, because at the time Ringsred was suing A&L Development and the city for violations of state law concerning historic preservation and the Tech Village. Not until some time later did Ringsred realize this was probably supposed to be a "pay-off" for him to drop the lawsuit.

Eventually, the Wabasha was relocated to Ringsred's property—with the city publicly denying any involvement. Former Mayor Doty at the time told media something to the effect, "It's a terrible thing—but we can't do anything about it."

However, city financial records show that while Doty was denying involvement, the city was in reality paying about $100,000 to the Wabasha to remodel their new location. Much of this public money went to Jamar Company—owned by A & L. It is not clear whether any competitive bids were obtained, as required by state law.

Ringsred's building was not actually leased by the Wabasha, but by A&L, acting on behalf of the city, for a period of 5 years. Ringsred recalls that the lease required approval by Cynthia Albright, Assistant City Attorney and acting director of DEDA.

A&L in turn sub-leased to the Wabasha.

The Wabasha's new location at the time, in 1998, was completely in compliance with city codes—after all, it was the city who selected this location. The city itself upheld this position when threatened with legal action by a nearby business, Viking Micrographics, and its owner, Wayne Torfin.

Now the city has taken action to shut down the Wabasha—which is still in the same location chosen by the city itself 8 years ago. Apparently, churches and the Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial—which have since moved into the neighborhood—are all in violation of the city ordinance which prohibits such places within 600 feet of an adult bookstore. Remember, the Wabasha was there first.

One wonders, however, about the real motivation to now revoke the Wabasha's operating license. This situation has been fine with the city for these past several years, with the same nearby churches and memorial plaza. What's different now?

Two things are different.

One—the city wants to retaliate against Ringsred and Jim Gradishar, Wabasha owner, for opening an adult club in the NorShor Theater. The city and others are very interested in having Ringsred out of the NorShor, as he does not want a proposed skywalk to go through his historic building.

Two—A&L Development has bought up an entire block of property directly across the street from the Wabasha—no doubt with an eye toward developing it. And former Mayor Doty has bought the next adjacent block.

Anyone smell a rat?

Note: Could this also have anything to do with the city's current actions against the Kozy Bar? It seems they would like Ringsred out of there, also. Things start to make sense when you have more of the facts, now, don't they?

***

Wabasha Book targeted, shut down
Bookstore: Duluth police shut down the First Street business for code violations and investigate a bomb threat directed at NorShor Theatre owner Eric Ringsred.
By Mark Stodghill, Duluth News-Tribune Staff Writer
Source: Duluth News-Tribune, Fri., June 2, 2006

Vandals defaced the door of Wabasha Adult Bookstore in downtown Duluth. Police worked for and against Wabasha Book in downtown Duluth today as they investigated a bomb threat affixed with a knife to the door of the pornography shop and, in an unrelated action, told the business owner he was being shut down.

Sgt. Scott Campbell, supervisor of the Violent Crimes Unit, said the Wabasha notified police at 8:17 a.m. that a threatening note directed toward Eric Ringsred was found on the front of the store at 114 E. First St.

Ringsred is owner of the NorShor Theatre and has approved a plan for Jim Gradishar, owner of Wabasha Book, to bring nude dancers into the theater located on Superior St.

The words of the note were pieced together with letters taken from a newspaper or magazine, Campbell said. It was stuck to the door with a kitchen knife.

He said the crime scene unit was processing the note for fingerprints and other evidence and it wasn't available for public inspection Friday.

A vandal also spray-painted a red "X" over the Wabasha door.

Gradishar didn't see the threatening note, but a police officer told him what it said. "It said something like, 'If you open the NorShor strip club we will blow you up' or something like that," he said.

"If they think my business is wrong, then why do another wrong? Two wrongs don't make a right," Gradishar said of the threat. "They're obviously upset with my business. I can't understand how terrorism can do anything good for anybody. Some humans think like jackasses. Violence is not the answer, that's for sure."

Store's location violates city code

Gradishar received another dose of bad news Friday when Duluth police licensing officer Steve Latour told him his adult bookstore was being closed.

Latour determined that Gradishar's business is in violation of a Duluth city ordinance that doesn't allow an adult bookstore within 600 feet of churches, parks, pedestrian plazas or schools.

Latour measured the distance and found that the front door of the bookstore is 65.9 feet -- about the distance of a baseball pitching mound from home plate -- from the front door of the nondenominational On Eagle's Wing Church.

The Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial meets the generally accepted definition of a pedestrian plaza and is 170.5 feet from the Wabasha.

A youth center and Hillside Community Church are located at 201 E. First St., about 319 feet from the adult book store.

Duluth City Attorney Bryan Brown said the denial of the adult bookstore's permit application was coincidental to Gradishar recently bringing nude dancers into the NorShor Theatre as part of his plan to turn the theater into a multi-entertainment complex.

The permit was granted through May 31 and the city denied renewal on June 1, Brown said.

He said he informed Gradishar several months ago that the city had problems with the adult bookstore because of the distance ordinance that went into effect in September.

"His comment was that he'd change the nature of his bookstore and start selling other publications," Brown said of Gradishar.

Under the city ordinance, an adult bookstore is defined as having 40 percent or more of its gross sales in books, pamphlets, magazines or other pictorial or printed material which are distinguished or characterized by a principal emphasis on nudity, sado-masochistic abuse, sexual conduct or sexual excitement; and/or has 30 percent or more of books, pamphlets, magazines or other pictorial or printed material displayed for sale on the premises distinguished or characterized by a principal emphasis on nudity, sado-masochistic abuse, sexual conduct or sexual excitement.

Gradishar said today he planned to talk to his magazine distributor and he would provide everything from "Sports Afield to Hot Rod to Women's World" at his store.

The businessman was heading to Minneapolis to meet with his attorney.

"I'm not worried whatsoever about either business," Gradishar said. "I believe they both will be open shortly."

***

Proposal would save Saratoga
Adult Entertainment: A new city ordinance would save Duluth's oldest strip club but would not allow the NorShor to become one.
By Chris Hamilton, News-Tribune Staff Writer
Source: Duluth News-Tribune, Thur., June 22, 2006

Front of the Saratoga Club, Canal Park, Duluth, MN, USA City Councilor Russ Stewart will try to save Duluth's only strip joint, the Club Saratoga, from a new state law.

Stewart, whose 3rd District includes the 62-year-old Canal Park nightclub, will present an ordinance to the City Council on Monday that extends the city's existing standards for adult bookstores to adult entertainment such as strip clubs.

"I just think what the state did is they solved a problem that didn't exist," Stewart said. "And in doing so, they forced us to regulate something that had not been regulated."

City Attorney Bryan Brown, who wrote the ordinance for Stewart, said he believes the adult bookstore language will allow the Club Saratoga to operate as it does now.

Stewart's ordinance change will offer no help for controversial plans to put a strip club in the historic NorShor Theatre on Superior Street, because the NorShor is within 400 feet of a pedestrian plaza.

"I want it to be made clear that I do not want to be known as the champion of pornography," Stewart said. "They (Club Saratoga) are a business in our community, and they deserve as much attention as any other business. It's just something that needs to be dealt with, and I felt something needed to be done."

Councilors can vote on the matter as soon as their July 10 meeting. An informal poll of councilors by the News-Tribune found support from six of nine councilors, more than enough for it to pass.

Stewart's ordinance sets the same hours of operation for adult entertainment that bars have. By comparison, the new state law says nude dancing can take place only from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

That law was passed with little notice in the closing days of the legislative session last month. However, it appears to have serious implications for nearly every strip club in the state, because the law does not provide for grandfathering them in.

The law, however, allows cities to create ordinances to supersede state law.

State law says strip clubs cannot be within 500 feet of the property line of any residence or within 2,800 feet--more than half a mile--of churches and schools. An apartment next door put the Saratoga in violation.

The current city adult bookstore ordinance, which was written in 1959 and updated last fall, provides more leeway than the state's adult live entertainment law. But it still prohibits adult bookstores from being within 600 feet of churches, parks or schools or within 400 feet of a pedestrian plaza.

Stewart said the Police Department's licensing officer would need to take an official measurement to make sure the Saratoga complies. He said one dicey issue is whether the club is within 400 feet of the Lakewalk or fountain at the corner of Canal Park Drive and Buchanan Street.

Stewart's ordinance just adds "adult entertainment establishments" to the bookstore language. The less-restrictive standards, when compared to the state law, say that an adult entertainment establishment can't be within 600 feet of a residential zone.

"Zone" is the operative word, Stewart said.

"Since there is no residential zoning in Canal Park, we figured it (Club Saratoga) would comply," Stewart said.

At Large City Councilor Don Ness said combining adult bookstores and strip clubs in the same ordinance makes it more pragmatic for enforcement officers and more defensible for city lawyers.

The club's owners have not responded to requests for News Tribune interviews. Stewart said he spoke with a Twin Cities partner in the club who was fine with the new language.

"The Saratoga was there before anything else was there," said 5th District Councilor Russ Stover. "It would be wrong to see them go out of business."

At Large Councilor Tim Little said he would most likely endorse the ordinance as well, because he's never heard of any problems at the club.

Last month, NorShor Theatre owner Dr. Eric Ringsred and Jim Gradishar announced plans to turn the aging theater into a strip club.

"I know the Lakeplace Park is right across the street from the NorShor, so I doubt that they would comply," Stewart said.

A leading First Amendment attorney for Minnesota club owners already said he will challenge the state law. Gradishar has said he set aside plans to open this summer until he sees how the legal challenges shake out.

Brown also said he still plans to ask the Attorney General's Office to weigh in on the constitutionality of the state law. If Mike Hatch says it's OK, Brown said the city would move ahead with earlier plans to shut down the Saratoga.

Of course, Hatch's opinion would be moot if Stewart's ordinance passes.

Second District Councilor Greg Gilbert said he hadn't read Stewart's ordinance yet, so had no opinion.

"I hope it's well thought-out," Gilbert said. "Otherwise this can turn into a real mess. There are a lot of landmines out there on this one."

***

Our View: Proposed strip club law just might get a little Fuzzy
Source: Unsigned editorial, Duluth News-Tribune, Thur., June 22, 2006

Read the opening sections of the city's proposed adult entertainment ordinance and it's pretty certain that a Stewart wrote it. It may be more difficult to determine if it was penned by Duluth City Councilor Russ Stewart or the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, famous for his definition of pornography as "I know it when I see it."

No matter. All the boilerplate phraseology about "emphasis on nudity" and "sado-masochistic abuse" has apparently been lifted from other jurisdictions where it has stood up to court challenges. All Stewart--Russ, that is--added was enough wink-wink, nod-nod to bring strip clubs under the existing ordinance covering adult books stores, an omission that had hamstrung the city from enforcing rules on dancing establishments in the past. He also modified some of the Draconian limitations in the new state law about how far the clubs had to be from what sort of building, the result being an ordinance that would allow Duluth's decades-old Saratoga Club to keep operating but prohibit a new establishment from starting in the NorShor Theatre.

That appears to match the prevailing public sentiment, as well as that of this page, but laws written hurriedly for political expediency can have unintended consequences. The most obvious is it would seem also to grandfather the now-closed Fuzzy's Place, run by the same entrepreneur as the nascent NorShor club.

Well, no one was making too much noise about Fuzzy's or anywhere else before the NorShor debacle hit, so the effect of the ordinance should be to bring Duluth's nightlife back to where it was.

We'll know that when we see it.

***


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