‘Our building is completely full’: NHC says parking needs justify eminent domain for strip club

‘Our building is completely full’: NHC says parking needs justify eminent domain for strip club

New Hanover County commissioners authorized the purchase of eminent domain for the Cheetah Gentlemen’s Club on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Peter Castagno)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Two months after the state treasurer criticized the county for building its government center next to a strip club, New Hanover County has exercised its rights to purchase the Cheetah Premier Gentlemen’s Club via royalty. County officials insisted the decision was irrelevant.

Read more: NH Province moves to new government center

also: NHC is once again defending Project Grace before the LGC, with a vote scheduled for October

“Our building is completely full,” Commissioner Dane Scalise told Port City Daily. “There are people walking around trying to find a parking space. We need more parking. That’s why we’re doing this.”

Monday night, New Hanover County commissioners approved a $2.36 million eminent domain purchase for the Cheetah Club to expand parking for the adjacent Government Center.

This issue was not put on the agenda, but rather it was brought up at the end of the meeting and voted on unanimously by the commissioners. County Manager Chris Coudert raised the motion by citing the property’s county tax ID number but did not mention the name of the business.

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said the issue was not included because it is “time sensitive” and issues sometimes arise between the drafting of the agenda, which is released Wednesday before Monday’s meeting, and the board convening.

Commissioners said they had been deliberating for months and even made an offer on the property before taking the eminent domain route.

The county has recognized the need for new parking since moving into the new government building in March, according to Scalise. The county allowed a real estate broker to submit a $2.36 million offer on behalf of the county, but the offer was rejected, Scalise said.

Property owner Jerry Reed said he often receives offers for the site from real estate brokers, which he usually rejects. He conveys to interested parties that they will first have to ask tenants if they are open to the deal because they have the right of first refusal. Cheetah Club management could not be reached by press.

“I don’t really know what it’s worth because I wasn’t going to sell it,” Reid said.

He purchased the building for $1.45 million in 2011.

Reed said he never received a formal offer from the county on its proposal and added that the broker who contacted him about purchasing the property did not identify himself as a representative of the county or the city.

“I asked, ‘Are you from New Hanover County or Wilmington?’ “(The actor) said, ‘I have no right to reveal,'” Reid recalls.

The county allowed a real estate broker to handle the deal, Scalise said.

“I’m not sure what was conveyed, but I’m confident our mediator did everything he could to best represent the county’s interests,” he said. “And so are the attorneys we authorized yesterday. Again, no lawsuits have been filed yet, and I’m sure our attorneys are happy to speak with the property owner.”

The county is currently working with attorneys from Ward & Smith, Pennsylvania on this case. Commissioners Barfield and Scalise did not know when the case would move forward.

Reed hinted that the adult club’s proximity to the government center could have been a factor in the county’s decision to take over the property. The county offices, and even its predecessor building, are located next to the entertainment venue — which has been various strip clubs — as well as Ten Pin Bowling Alley and Breaktime Billiards for more than 20 years.

The county did not answer whether it would consider other nearby properties. She issued a statement on Tuesday and indicated she would not be taking further questions:

“This situation is ongoing and we will provide more information as it becomes available. At this time, we do not have any additional information,” company spokesperson Alex Riley wrote to the media.

“Some people don’t really like the senior club. I get it, I get it,” Reed told Port City Daily. “But there are some acts I don’t like.”

Reid said he was involved at 143 S. College Rd. Ownership since 1997. He previously owned the strip club Pure Gold, which occupied the site for 20 years, before Cheetah took over the business in 2017.

“We’ve never been shut down,” Reed said. “I’ve never had any violations and I don’t know anything about the tenants that are there now. I don’t think they’ve ever had any violations, or any major problems.”

State Treasurer Dale Folwell called on the county to build its government center next to the strip club during a Local Government Commission meeting to approve funding for the Grace project. Commissioner Scalise has been advocating a public-private partnership for the Grace project — the $52 million government center was also a public-private partnership — and told Folwell at the September meeting that the county wants to have a say in what will be built to redevelop the area.

In response, the treasurer said, “You built your new county building next to a gentlemen’s club, so I don’t see a lot of evidence that you care about the development next door to you, if you build your county building next to a strip club.”

“From my personal standpoint, I don’t like strip clubs, but this has absolutely nothing to do with my official responsibility,” Scalise told the Port City Daily on Tuesday. “The reason we are pursuing this has nothing to do with him at all.”

Instead, Barfield told Port City Daily: “I think optics have always been an issue.”

Port City Daily asked the county when the last time it seized property via lien — which refers to the government’s power to seize private property for public use. Commissioners Barfield and Scalise said they were not aware of any previous property the county had absorbed via eminent domain. Company spokesman Alex Riley did not answer further questions about the deal.

State law requires that a title can only be enacted if the government can reasonably show that the land is intended for public use only. It also requires the government to compensate the property owner fairly.

After the government decides it should take private property, a government inspector evaluates its value against an offer to the owner. The landowner can accept or reject the offer and appeal the eminent domain application, leading to a broader lawsuit.

Scalise told Port City Daily that he supports eminent domain only on rare occasions, but he believes the urgency of parking around the government building is enough to justify the measure.

Reed said the club has been in the area longer than the Government Center, which began work on the adjacent property in 2002. He said he collaborated with the builders of the new structure, which was completed in 2021. He helped them restructure the club. Parking lot to accommodate rainwater infrastructure.

“I’m amazed by this, number one,” Reed said. “And the second thing, we go back to 1997: we did our best to work with the city, the county, ALE and ABC.”

Port City Daily asked Scalise why the mandate appeared to be a “last-minute decision,” which is the framing that prompted him to back away from it.

“We did it officially,” he said, adding that they posted the public notice as quickly as possible. “We did that with the media in the chamber, and immediately released the information regarding the start of the eminent domain process. Again, we did not file a lawsuit. We just started the process.”

He said the county does not want to announce negotiations with interested parties until they are sure they will not be able to acquire the property voluntarily.

Scalise emphasized that the county remains open to dialogue with the property owner. Reid expressed his desire to cooperate on this issue.

“We have a lot of respect for county officials,” Reed said. “All we want to do is work with them and everyone will come up with a solution that works.”

This is not the first time Reid has worked with government officials regarding the business of a gentlemen’s club. He previously owned topless Market Street bar Dockside Dolls. According to Secretary of State records, Dockside Dolls was administratively dissolved in 2010; Its last annual submission was in 2004.

In 2001, Reed abandoned his plans to perform nude at the Dockside Dolls after talks with Councilman Charlie Rivenbark and former City Attorney Tom Pollard; Reed said at the time that he made the decision “as a service to the city.”

Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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