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Proposed strip club loses bid for liquor license

SPRINGFIELD — The fate of Jack Dugger’s proposed Shakers Bar and Grill downtown may have been sealed by its own troubled surroundings.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission denied a liquor license for the proposed strip club, according to the decision letter released Wednesday, leaving the embattled nightclub owner with few remaining options to open at the downtown location he has leased.

The state ruling was not a referendum on Dugger’s moral character or business practices — both of which were criticized by the city of Springfield in the 400-page recommendation for denial that the city handed to the OLCC in July. In fact, the commission debunked all of the city’s arguments against Shakers.

Except for one.

In the denial letter to Dugger dated Oct. 30, OLCC License Technician Dan Croy cited the wealth of unsavory characters and activities in the broad vicinity of the proposed Shakers at 535 Main St. as the reason the state would not grant the strip club a liquor license. The area already suffers from a surfeit of problems, and Dugger has not shown that his alcohol-serving club would not exacerbate those problems, the state ruled.

In the city’s case against Dugger’s liquor license application, Springfield police provided statistics about the high number of crimes in the city’s core. Assaults, disputes, fights, discarded drug syringes, gunshot wounds and harassment were most prevalent within 500 feet of Shakers’ proposed site. For example, 120 such crimes were reported in the vicinity of the building in 2006.

“Locating a new licensed premises with an operation that will focus on alcohol rather than food service in an area that already has significant problems will likely contribute to increasing problems in the area,” Croy wrote.

Dugger’s girlfriend, Julie Hunt, on Wednesday said Dugger will appeal the ruling.

“We’re going to take it to a hearing,” Hunt said when she answered the phone at Dugger’s home in Marcola on Wednesday. “None of them (the people committing crimes around Shakers) are related to the business.”

Dugger was not available for comment Wednesday. Hunt argued that a strip club draws a more restrained crowd than those people currently attracted to downtown, and would indeed help address the issue of miscreants on Main Street.

Dugger has until Dec. 29 to file for an appeals hearing, which would go to the state Office of Administrative Hearings, OLCC spokeswoman Christie Scott said. Hearing applications being filed now aren’t being scheduled until next April or May, meaning it would be nearly a full year that Shakers has remained at 535 Main St. unopened.

News of the state ruling came as a welcome surprise to Shakers protester Kitty Wear, who has two children at the nearby Academy of Arts & Academics at 615 Main St.

“Wonderful, that means they can’t open,” Wear said. “At least this year my kids will go to school without a horrible element wandering the streets with them — at least not right next to the school.”

Dugger initially planned to open Shakers as a 21-and-up alcohol-serving strip club, but when his liquor license application came under fire earlier this year, he said he would open the place as a nonalcohol 18-and-up strip club. Then, last month, the city informed him of a city code prohibiting nonalcoholic nightclubs within 500 feet of established taverns. Two taverns lie within 500 feet of the site.

The OLCC’s decision on Shakers may have a larger implication for downtown Springfield, where city officials want to spark urban renewal.

The OLCC decision makes the 500-foot radius around the proposed Shakers site a “problem area” under Oregon liquor law, meaning that any new establishment seeking a liquor license will face tough scrutiny by the OLCC, Scott said.

Problem areas are those with a “history of serious or persistent problems with unlawful activities,” and the existence of those activities is a legal basis for denying new liquor licenses, she said. The “problem area” criteria does not apply to existing bars, Scott said.

For Dugger or any other applicant to gain a new license in a state-designated problem area, they bear the burden of proof to show they will not contribute to the area’s problems, she said.

As part of an effort to secure his liquor license, Dugger last month submitted a control plan for Shakers, including installation of video cameras and deployment of a security guard to patrol the outside.

That wasn’t enough, the state ruled.

“The applicant’s plan is not sufficient to prevent this premises from contributing to the problems in the area,” Croy wrote in his denial. “And applicant has not shown that he has the willingness and ability to control the proposed premises and patrons’ behavior near the proposed premises.”

Dugger’s daughter, Janilyn Black, said she was frustrated and angry over the decision, but wasn’t surprised.

“If you’re going to shut down one bar in that area, you should shut them all down,” Black said. “But this was going to happen anyways, when you’ve got city officials determined like this.”

The City Council and the OLCC have approved five other new liquor licenses for restaurants and bars near Shakers in the past year. Also, the state gave a liquor license in January 2007 to the previous tenants at 535 Main St., the location where Dugger now wants to open.

Scott said the state likely approved those because the city hadn’t raised any opposition to them.

“With the negative endorsement (from the city), that made us more aware of the level of problems,” Scott said. “The information that we gathered from (this investigation) got us to call this a problem area.”

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