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Strip club to open in McKeesport amid controversy

| Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 7:14 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Saints and Sinners Gentleman's Club along Walnut Street could open Friday despite opposition from city officials and residents.

Despite opposition from city officials, a gentlemen's club is set to open on Friday in McKeesport's Walnut Street business district.

Print and radio advertisements are promoting a Valentine's Day grand opening for the Saints and Sinners Gentlemen's Club at 3711 Walnut St., and owner Scott Birdseye of Irwin confirmed details on Tuesday.

From his second-floor office in the shell of the former Chick's Grill, Birdseye said crews are working around the clock to ready the facility.

“We're striving for it,” he said. “We're working hard.”

The bar/restaurant's equipment was auctioned by building owners Tri-Star Holdings LLC, and Birdseye's business is being built from scratch. So far, a security system has been installed and a stage for female dancers has been constructed.

That there are construction and utility crews on-site came as a surprise to city officials, who have not issued an occupancy permit or zoning certificate for Saints and Sinners.

“The basis for needing an occupancy permit is a change of use,” building inspector Chris House said. “It was a restaurant. Now it's a strip club, which does not conform to any of our ordinance definitions.”

Saints and Sinners applied for a permit to operate a gentlemen's club on Nov. 4. The application since has been revised to operate a bar/restaurant.

With no certificate from the county Health Department and no license from state Liquor Control Enforcement, Saints and Sinners cannot operate as a bar/restaurant.

Birdseye said on Tuesday the club will sell only prepackaged food and drinks, and beer will be offered to customers at no charge.

“Our ordinance defines a bar/restaurant as an establishment that performs the sale of food and beverages,” House said. “The key word there is sale. They're giving out free chips and cups of beer.”

Even with confusion surrounding the application, city council formally agreed to oppose its Christy Park location.

Mayor Michael Cherepko asked council on Feb. 5 to oppose the operation of a gentlemen's club in the Walnut Street business corridor.

“I asked council to make a motion for the city to take a stance to not allow that type of establishment in that particular area,” Cherepko said on Tuesday.

City Solicitor J. Jason Elash said he is drafting a zoning amendment that would allow adult establishments in specified zones, such as the Tenth Ward where a strip club and adult bookstore already are in business.

“We are looking to amend the zoning ordinance to prohibit these establishments in some places, and welcome them in others,” Elash said. “The city will dictate where these types of establishments can be located so that they do not affect the health, safety and morals of the community. If you don't permit a use somewhere, it's very difficult to prohibit it elsewhere.”

Birdseye said it's the Christy Park location that attracted him to the former Chick's building. He thinks there will be a larger draw from across the Mon-Yough region, and he said the neighborhood is more appealing than other sections of McKeesport.

“I'd like it to be an upper-class gentlemen's club,” Birdseye said. “I'd like it to be a place where people feel comfortable in a good atmosphere. This is a better part of town.”

Birdseye, 39, has been in the gentlemen's club business since he was 18. He's managed two other clubs in Pennsylvania, but declined to name them.

Birdseye, who is represented by Pittsburgh attorney Brad Sommer, said he knows his rights.

“You're either going to let a gentlemen's club in town or not,” he said. “Once we notified them that we were opening, they can't do this afterwards.”

Sommer acknowledged the city's opposition to Saints and Sinners in a phone call on Tuesday afternoon. He declined comment on the phone, but offered to send an email giving his legal opinion. The email was not received at presstime, despite multiple calls to inquire about it.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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