Madison’s alcohol license regulatory committee recommended Wednesday that the City Council deny applications from Silk Exotic to run a strip club where Visions currently operates on East Washington Avenue.
The future of Madison’s only strip club has been uncertain since a shooting in December 2018 that left several injured. The incident focused the city’s attention on the adult entertainment venue located at 3554 E. Washington Ave.
Despite promises that Silk Exotic would be a better operator at the location than Visions, the Alcohol License Review Committee voted unanimously to deny Silk Exotic’s alcohol, entertainment and adult entertainment licenses. The City Council will take up the applications at its Feb. 4 meeting.
For Ald. Grant Foster, District 15, the decision was not about adult entertainment, zoning or whether Silk Exotic would be a better operator than Visions. It was about the health, safety and welfare of nearby residents.
“It’s not in the best interest of the neighborhood,” Foster said.
Last December, the City Council resolved a complaint against the strip club by approving an agreement that mandated Visions would close for 90 days starting Jan. 1.
Also at that meeting, the City Council denied a request to reorganize the ownership of Visions. This required Downtown Madison Investments LLC to apply for new licenses to operate a Silk Exotic Madison East Gentlemen’s Club.
Silk Exotic currently operates four other locations, including in the town of Middleton and in downtown Milwaukee.
The business has parted ways with past investors due to their ties with criminal activities. Last July, unsealed court documents showed that Silk Exotic strip club owner Jon Ferraro secretly pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit money laundering and racketeering in a federal case known as “Russian Laundry.” Also, Radomir Buzdum, another former Silk co-owner, is under investigation in a human trafficking and money laundering case tied to a strip club he owned in Juneau County.
For the past several years, neighbors have consistently expressed concerns with Visions over issues of noise, disturbances and parking in the neighborhood. Madison Police Capt. Brian Ackeret encouraged the committee to listen to the neighbors’ concerns about nuisance activities outside of the establishment.
“From a police perspective, we would be fine not having to deal with a license in this neighborhood,” Ackeret said.
In its applications, Silk Exotic proposed posting security personnel both inside and outside of the establishment in addition, installing 32 security cameras and offering a valet service.
Kyle Zubke, director of operations, assured residents he and his business partners understand their concerns.
“That’s all we can do at this point is to assure everyone we are not the past. We are a different organization,” Zubke said. “We’re going into a place that currently has (adult entertainment), and we feel like we are a better operator and we can do a better job.”
Zubke could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Silk Exotic is working with a third party to secure parking in the area. As of Wednesday, the business did not have a valet parking area finalized.
“I am not going to support this license, not based on any emotional distaste for Visions, not based on the many other things that people have said tonight, but based on the real issue,” Ald. Sheri Carter, District 14, said. “The real issue is parking, and that’s the issue we should be talking about.”
Part of what breeds tension between Visions and the nearby residents is the proximity to the surrounding neighborhood.
“It is just really right smack dab in a residential neighborhood,” Foster said.
Visions is located at a site currently not zoned for strip clubs that is near residential areas. It moved to the location under a previous zoning classification and is allowed to operate today as a legal, nonconforming use.
Under the current zoning code, adult entertainment taverns are allowed to operate in some industrial areas and are required to be at least 500 feet from places like parks, schools and places of worship.
“The big, primary issue is the location that it’s just regardless of any kind of nightclub, bar, venue like that is just not appropriate at that kind of location,” Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy said. “It just doesn't make sense to approve another license for a business that is alcohol-fueled.