City wants to establish local link to slain Pin Ups owner before giving club the green light

Matt Algarin

While there has been no physical work on Destin's first strip club, there has been plenty of legal sparring taking place between the city of Destin and the club's representatives.

Since the club's developers filed for a development order last month, city planners have yet to officially begin the review process since the application was deemed "incomplete."

What was first cited as a missing lighting plan has since expanded into more and more questions about the club that would open at 908 Airport Road.

In a series of letters sent between the city's land use attorney, Scott Shirley, and the club's local representative, attorney Dana Matthews, requests for more information and threats of legal action have taken place.

The city has raised questions about the club's operators, who legally could open the establishment under the city's settlement agreement with the late Terry Stephenson, and the names and ownership rights of those who have a stake in Trident-Operations, LLC. The city also wanted to know whether the current developers behind Trident-Operations have legally "acquired" the ownership interests from the deceased Terry Stephenson, who was gunned down outside of his Atlanta-based strip club., Pin Ups, in 2010.

In a Feb. 21 letter to Matthews, Shirley wrote "further possessing of the above-referenced application will be suspended until such time as such information is received and reviewed by this office and city staff."

In his written rebuttal, Matthews warned the city that delaying the development order review process could have negative impacts. He cited specific language from the settlement agreement that allows the strip club to open in the city's industrial zoning district, which is located near a residential neighborhood.

In part, the agreement reads that the city must "expedite" the review, as well as any inspections of renovations and construction to the building.

"Please advise the city that my client will hold them responsible for all damages allowed by law for the unreasonable delays of the city in expediting review of my client's application," Matthews wrote. "Please provide your legal authority... which requires Trident-Operations LLC to provide the city with the information requested in your letter."

The sparring continued between Matthews and Shirley in a March 1 letter, where Shirley clearly spells out why the city has "legal authority" to request additional information from the proposed developers, such as the names of parties involved with Trident.

Shirley pointed to two particular sections areas in the city's books that give them the authority to request certain information, while also limiting the scope of the request to only include persons with "influential interest" in the business, which means they would have "the power to control, in whole or in part, the operation, management, policies, or premises of a business or entity."

Those with a title such as president, vice president, secretary or general manager, just to name a few, would also be required to submit information to the city. Someone with influential interest could also be a person that has ownership of a "controlling interest" or voting securities in a business.

"At such time as Trident applies for a license to operate a sexually oriented business, the remainder of the information... will be required as to each person so identified," Shirley wrote.

As for whether or not the current applicants have the right to open the club under the city's settlement agreement with the late Stephenson, it's still up in the air.

"Based on the records available from the State of Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations, Mr. Stephenson was the only person identified as manager/member, and the only person who would have met the above definition of having an 'influential interest,' " Shirley wrote. "If Mr. Stephenson was the sole owner/member, or if he held a controlling interest, his interest would have had to be legally transferred to other new owner/member in order for the entity before the city to be the same business entity with which the city signed the settlement and for the application to be legally authorized."

Once the city is provided with the names of those with an "influential interest" and the developers provide information about the transfer of the "influential interest" from Stephenson to the current parties, Shirley says the city will resume reviewing the application.

According to The Runway's website, the club had planned for a spring 2013 opening, but without a development order in place, that may be unlikely.

As of Tuesday, city officials were still waiting on documents from the club's developers.