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Diva’s debate to go to full council

Bangor Daily News | BDN
Bangor Daily News | BDN
Kathy Baldacci owner of an apartment complex located across the street from Diva's gentlemen's club in Bangor speaks out on Wednesday, June 9, 2010 against Diane Cormier's request to relax rules concerning nude entertainment and alcohol at Cormier's club. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT
By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The nearly 13-year saga involving Diva’s Gentlemen’s Club and its host city will last at least another couple of weeks.

Although a City Council subcommittee voted Wednesday to deny a request by Diva’s owner Diane Cormier to relax ordinances to allow nudity and alcohol consumption at the same time, the matter will go to the full council.

Cary Weston, chairman of the business and economic development committee, said he didn’t think three councilors should decide Cormier’s fate and he requested that an ordinance amendment be sent to the council anyway.

Weston’s decision, which culminated a lengthy discussion Wednesday evening, effectively overturned a motion made by Councilor David Nealley and seconded by Geoff Gratwick to let Cormier’s request die in committee.

Before the decision, Cormier made an impassioned plea to councilors to reconsider city laws that allow alcohol consumption and nude dancing, but not at the same time or place.

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“That makes about as much sense as going to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger and having to go Wendy’s for a shake,” she said. “I know some [councilors] do not like our type of business, but some don’t have any problem when not in front of a microphone or camera.”

Cormier opened Diva’s in 1998 on State Street and moved the club to its current Harlow Street location in 2008. She has been challenging the city ever since, in and out of courtrooms. Councilors, continually buoyed by significant public pressure, always have kept her from getting what she ultimately wants: a strip club that can serve patrons alcohol.

But Cormier said she has been a good businesswoman and has never had any problems.

Police Chief Ron Gastia agreed that Diva’s does not draw any more complaints than any other bar or nightclub in Bangor and in some cases Diva’s generates significantly less attention. Gastia also said he recently spoke to a police official in Portland who informed him that a strip club there that allows nude dancing and alcohol consumption, Platinum Plus, is no different than any other bar or club.

City Council Chairman Richard Stone has made it no secret that he is opposed to making any concessions for Diva’s. Although he didn’t attend Wednesday’s meeting, Stone asked that a letter be read, a request that drew fire from other councilors.

Pat Blanchette, who first requested that Cormier get a public hearing, said Stone was overstepping his boundaries as a councilor by injecting personal opinions into the discussion. Hal Wheeler also objected and said councilors are supposed to represent all citizens of Bangor, not just their own self-interests.

Weston read the letter anyway, which stated that Stone didn’t believe that changing ordinances to accommodate Diva’s would add any value to the city.

Cormier took umbrage with Stone’s words.

“That really pisses me off,” she said. “There is value in everything.”

In order to comply with city ordinances, Diva’s has been serving alcohol and requiring dancers to wear the equivalent of bikini tops and bottoms, a combination Cormier said hurts business.

Dean Perry, an employee of Diva’s, said he sees a lot of value in the 20 to 30 jobs that would be lost if the gentlemen’s club continues to struggle financially.

Dan Wellington, who along with the city’s legal staff will draft an ordinance amendment for the council to consider, has said that the city may need to address several issues first. They include whether businesses such as Diva’s would be subjected to additional licensing requirements, whether zoning law would need to be amended and whether neighbors would have reasonable rights to setbacks.

One neighbor, Kathy Baldacci, speaking on behalf of The Schoolhouse — which sits directly across Harlow Street from Diva’s — voiced her opposition Wednesday night.

“It’s already so close to a residential property that houses families, children and even a church,” she said. “It’s just not appropriate.”

City councilors likely will discuss and vote on a proposed ordinance amendment at a meeting later this month but whether there are the minimum five votes necessary for approval is up in the air.

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