‘A bittersweet victory’: City, strip club representatives agree to settlement (LIVEBLOG)

Matt Algarin

Cheers, handshakes, hugs and tears — that was the scene after Monday night's executive session.

“The people of Destin made it clear that they were not in support of the club, particularly under the terms of the settlement that allowed for alcohol,” Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell told The Log. “Ultimately, I believe it was important to take a stand in order to preserve the image and character of our city and represent the wishes of the majority of our community.”

With a 7-0 vote, city leaders agreed to a settlement with the proposed developers of The Runway, which was set to become the city’s first strip club. As part of the agreement, the city will pay Trident Operations LLC and related partners a sum of $1,750,000 and they will purchase the property at 908 Airport Road for $400,000.

The settlement comes after many years of legal wrangling between the city and the proposed developers of the strip club. This is also the second settlement that has come along with this particular case.

In 2010, the city entered into an agreement with the late Terry Stephenson after he sued the city for violating his Constitutional rights to “exotic speech.” As part of that agreement, the city forced the club’s operators to move from their Mountain Drive location to an area in the city’s industrial zoning district.

At the time, city leaders more than likely never imagined the developers would purchase property directly across the street from a residential neighborhood, but that’s exactly what occurred.

Red Brick Construction LLC, which is affiliated with Trident Operations, purchased the property for $360,000 in 2011. They are set to make a $40,000 profit based on terms of the settlement.

Father Mike Hesse, who has been outspoken on this issue in the past, told city leaders that he appreciates the efforts made by the city, as they had a tough task in front of them.

But Hesse wasn’t as warm with the representatives from the proposed club, as he looked toward attorney Dana Matthews and others.

“For those who pressed the city, I think it’s pretty bad that people can come and pick on us… for a dollar,” he said. “I know you finessed the city pretty well — I don’t think you finessed God.”

As the unofficial spokewoman of Citizens for A Greater Destin, Patti Terjak has spent many hours dedicated to fighting against the proposed strip club with her fellow group members.

Now that the settlement has been agreed upon, Terjak said she can go back to running her beach wedding business Surfside Brides.

“It’s a bittersweet victory,” she said Tuesday morning. “I’m very proud that the councilors listened to the people.”

“I’m proud to call myself a member of the Destin community that has a backbone when it needs to stand up for something,” she added.

For his part, Councilman Jim Foreman told The Log that a tough decision was made Monday night.

“Destin paid the price to keep the lowest form of society from getting a foothold in our community,” he said. “We did the right thing.”

Dating back to 2009 when the litigation began, the city has since compiled $213,978 in legal fees as of April 9, 2014. The city’s direct out-of-pocket payout totals $32,036, while insurance costs total $181,942.

The settlement agreement between the city and representatives must still be finalized, which was expected to take place Tuesday. Once the agreement is finalized, the city has until April 29 to pay the $1,750,000 and until May 6 to pay the $400,000. The final step is for the consent decree to be filed in federal court and signed by a judge.

The money will come from the city’s unassigned fund balance, which has about $5.2 million available.

While the settlement amount and property purchase is more than $2 million, Ramswell said the funds are significant, but “it allows the city to move forward without a strip club and prevents any other sexually oriented business that might emerge from selling alcohol — a critical component of a successful adult entertainment business.”

LIVEBLOG

Destin Log Editor Matt Algarin was at Monday night's City Council meeting and offered a live play-by-play of the night's discussions.

To read more about what was discussed, CLICK HERE. and HERE.