Diva’s building changing hands

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff
Posted Oct. 17, 2008, at 7:12 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The State Street building that has housed Diva’s Gentleman’s Club for more than a decade is about to be sold.

The building at 65 State St. once housed Hillside Cleaners. Twelve years ago, Bangor businessman David Lawler bought it as an investment property. After putting it on the market on and off for the past few years, it now appears Lawler has found a buyer.

Lawler, who confirmed this week that a sale is pending, referred questions about the pending sale to his prospective buyer.

Chris Ruhlin, who owns Herbal Tea and Tobacco Co. at 44 Main St., said this week that he is in the process of buying it and that a real estate closing is tentatively set for Oct. 22.

“I’ve always wanted to own my own [commercial] building,” said Ruhlin, who now leases his store’s retail space.

He has big plans for the historic brick building.

Besides relocating his current retail operation there, he said Thursday that he plans to restore the building’s façade and install hardwood flooring.

He also plans to create rental living space on the upper levels and hopes to install an art glass studio and gallery space for his own blown-glass objects as well as those created by nearly a dozen other glass artisans from throughout the region.

He said his plans do not provide for a continued lease arrangement with Diva’s.

Diane Cormier, who has been running the exotic dance club out of the State Street building since November 1997, declined this week to comment on the pending sale or her plans for the business. She declined to say whether the business will continue, and if so, where.

“I refuse to talk to the Bangor Daily News about anything because this is a free market [economy] and they won’t allow me to advertise, even for help-wanted ads,” Cormier said Thursday.

The Bangor Daily News does not run ads featuring explicit adult entertainment.

“Why should the BDN make money by [running stories about Cormier’s legal battles with the city] on the front page? Sex sells,” Cormier said, referring to her court challenges of Bangor’s adult entertainment ordinance.

As it stands, the city’s ordinance allows for alcohol sales or nude dancing, but not both. Despite several challenges to that rule, it has been upheld.

Essentially, the rules ban the display of female or male genitals “with less than a fully opaque covering” in establishments that serve alcohol. With regard to Diva’s, the dancers are required to wear bikinis.

Under Diva’s current format, which Bangor Code Enforcement Officer Dan Wellington said this week is classified as a bar because it offers bar service but not nude dancing, Cormier can move her operation to any zoning district in the city that allows bars.

Should Cormier change that format and offer nude entertainment, she would have to locate her business in a zoning designation that allows it.

As it stands, Wellington said, those areas that would allow nude entertainment are designated as Neighborhood Service District, Urban Service District, Airport Development District, Shopping and Personal Service District, General Commercial and Service District and, under some conditions, Urban Industrial District.

Even then, however, a nude-entertainment establishment would have to be located at least 500 feet away from any church, chapel, parish house or other place of worship, public library, juvenile shelter or orphanage, public or private school, school dormitory or school ground, public playground or city park.

The Rev. James Haddix of nearby All Souls Congregational Church said Thursday that he was aware that the building has been up for sale, but hadn’t heard Lawler had found a buyer.

“This is an interesting turn of events,” Haddix said, adding that the church at one time had considered acquiring the building but determined that it did not meet its needs.

“We were approached several times but it didn’t seem like good stewardship of our resources to buy it,” he said.

Another factor in that decision was that had the church, which is exempt from property taxes, bought it, the building and land would have been removed from the city’s tax rolls.

That, he said, would have been “disadvantageous” to the city, which as a regional service center, already has a disproportionately high percentage of property owned by nonprofit organizations.

“I’m glad to see that the building will be restored and I think it’ll be very interesting to see these things happen,” Haddix said. “I hope it’s a new day for the downtown.”

No fan of exotic dance, Haddix said that over the years he has received several telephone calls from parents who were distraught because their children were employed at Diva’s, calls he described as “heart-breaking.”

“These are people and I think my biggest regret is that I didn’t try harder to minister to them,” he said.

http://bangordailynews.com/2008/10/17/news/bangor/divas-building-changing-hands/ printed on August 22, 2014