August 2006

Demanding Accountability

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Strip Club Owner Fights City and Wins

By Ron Lee
Investigative Journalist

Lacey's Building

Grants Pass, OR -- City officials finally met with Larry Lacey at his building on the corner of 5th and "G" streets downtown after over 30 days of being under a city order to vacate the premises. The outcome of the August 10th meeting was a reversal of the order and an issuing to Lacey of a permit of occupancy. Immediately, the yellow caution tape and postings of warning were removed and Lacey and his tenants were allowed back in.

At issue has been Lacey's renovation of the upstairs portion of the building; which, according to city officials, citing a report filed by someone who had been witness to the renovations, weakened the structure, forcing its closure and evacuation on July 7th. The evacuation occurred in the evening when Shiki Sushi and Hunan Garden, tenants of Lacey's, were in the midst of a First Friday dinner rush with police officers escorting everyone out of the building. The cited report which began all of this was actually filed by Daily Courier journalist Shaun Hall who came into Lacey's building to see what was going on, and was asked to leave by Lacey. On Hall's information alone, a warrant was issued and city police evacuated the building and broke into the upstairs section of the building.

Up to that point Lacey had contracted engineering work to be supervised by Shane Earp, who also oversees an approximated 60% of the city's engineering issues, and Lacey had given Earp all of the changes he was going to be making and Earp was going to be signing-of on them. But, the day after the evacuation, when Lacey met with building officials on the property Earp was there in an official city capacity and later drafted a letter stating that he felt the building was unsafe. Using words like "in my opinion" and "I would assume" Earp cited no real structural computations that proved the building or individuals occupying the building to be in any danger.

Lacey tells of city officials, especially Ulys Stapleton the Grants Pass city attorney, stopping at nothing to keep him from opening a business - any business - within city limits as they fear it would be nothing more than Josephine County's second strip club - the first within Grants Pass city limits - as the real reason his building was closed. Lacey, however, still hasn't decided what he wants to put in upstairs other than offering a place to play pool and shoot in Nationally sanctioned pool tournaments.

Within several days of the closure Lacey had found structural engineer Tim Walden of Eugene to come in and look-over the work in progress. In fact, Lacey has documentation from several engineers, including Walden, who painstakingly crunched the calculations according to the building's schematics and remodel history, and they all came to the agreement that the building was safe and well beyond roof load limitations. Lacey stated, "I had 3 structural engineers sign-off on what I was doing." Lacey even posed the questions, "If they (city officials) were really concerned about the building coming down why didn't they close down the bike shop next door that shares a wall? I'd think they'd be in danger, too, if the building was really unsafe, don't you?"

Obviously with the meeting on August 10th and the issuance of the permit of occupancy it is apparent that officials had closed the building without just cause and were working more from their feelings about what was going on than the facts of the buildings structural integrity. Stapleton, however, suggests that it was Lacey's refusal to allow inspectors in that kept the building closed. Lacey denies this and has stated that officials even broke appointments to clear up this whole issue.

The city's closure of Lacey's building dislocated several established businesses and caused many employees to be without work. These displaced businesses, such as Hunan Garden, are due to reopen, but many are still angry that nothing was done to protect them and their investments and jobs. An issue which has many divided over who has ultimate culpability in this circumstance.

Lacey maintains he did everything to ensure the safety of the public and that of his tenants, and plans to in the future as well, saying, "I still have to put in a fire sprinkler system to get this place up to code, but I got to do it, right?"

According to Lacey he had been diligently seeking permits for all of the work, but was running into resistance. Lacey, however, admits to having begun tearing walls down without permits for that particular reconstruction after trying to procure one and being told he would have to use a sanctioned contractor. Lacey said that it just made financial sense to do so, stating, "It would have cost me over $20,000 if I were to get permits and use their 'approved' contractor to make it to the point the building is in now, and it's only cost me $2,500." Lacey feels that his intent to acquire the needed permits shows that he was trying to do everything legally and that the city's refusal to issue is the true crime.

Many business and home owners have faced a similar question, "Do I spend an absurd amount of money to do this project legally, or should I just do it and perhaps pay a lesser fine?" Obviously the system is broken and many suggest city planners should look at the bottom-line when it comes to permit fees and requirements. One local even saying, "With as many government agencies you have with their hands out for a piece of pie when you want to do something on your own property, it's not long until that pie is completely gone and there is nothing left for yourself."

Many castigate Lacey for opening Josephine County's first strip club, Club 71 in Sunny Valley, but he is fighting against a system many feel is corrupt; that of the city building department and the heavy-handed antics of city attorney Ulys Stapleton. This has left many conflicted with whom they want to side with.

Lacey has plans to file suit against all individuals involved in the building's closure.

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