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COLUMN

'Champagne Club' swings, but is it legal?

Landlord says yes, but city councilman isn't so sure

Saturday, November 30, 2013 - 12:01 am

From the outside, the nondescript building on Nuttman Avenue has little identity beyond the large “2710” posted on the fašade. It's what may be going on inside that has drawn the attention of some neighbors and city officials.

Four times a month, the Trax reception hall becomes the “Champagne Club,” the self-stated mission of which is to get “sexy people together in an erotic nightclub and letting them explore at their own pace.” The web site is a little vague as to what all those sexy people are investigating, but the club did just host a “Thankswinging” event called “Stuff Your Neighbor.”

“This is new territory for me,” said City Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, who has asked the city's legal department to investigate the legality of the apparent swingers club after receiving a complaint from a resident of the adjacent Indian Village neighborhood.

John Perlich, spokesman for Mayor Tom Henry, would say only that legal department “is working with various city agencies to ensure the facility is in compliance with city ordinances.”

Under city code, sexually oriented businesses are allowed on property zoned for “intensive commercial use.” That includes so-called sexual encounter establishments that offer “any form of consideration of a place where two or more persons may congregate, associate or consort for the purpose of engaging in specified sexual activities or where one or more of the persons is nude or semi-nude.”

2710 Nuttman, however, is zoned for “limited industrial” use – meaning “adult”

activities would not be allowed there.

But a spokeswoman for the owner, Thomas Lindenberg of Fort Wayne, said the club – one of the smaller organizations that rent space there – has already been reviewed and cleared by attorneys and planning officials after opening early last year.

“The zoning is for Trax Hall. I've been (to the Champagne Club) and nothing (sexual) occurs. It's social, with dancing. It's meet and greet. What they do after that is personal, as it is for any American,” she said.

And that may be the loophole that makes it all legal. For a Saturday night door donation of $50 per couple, $60 for a single male and just $10 for a single female (in addition to annual membership fees), you get hors d'oeuvres, drink mixers (you have to bring your own booze), a locker (bring your own lock), a ride to and from your favorite hotel and “all the fun you can get into.”

You can even get a discount room at the nearby Best Way Inn on Bluffton Road – an indication that the club merely facilitates encounters, not host them.

Now, I know what you're thinking: This is the City of Churches, not the city of pay-to-play, hygienically dubious sex. Wasn't it just a few years ago that Men's Health Magazine ranked Fort Wayne 87th out of 101 cities in terms of municipal male libido?

But years before the magazine placed Fort Wayne among America's limpest cities, we had a swingers club: “Club Utopia,” which opened in the former International Harvester complex around 2000 and, according to the Journal Gazette, moved to the Hallmark Inn at 3730 E Washington Blvd. a decade or so later under a new name: Jus 4 Now.

But Now may soon be then, if it isn't already, the Fort Wayne Plan Commission recently approved Woodburn resident Louis Lengacher's proposal to convert the Hallmark into an assisted living facility.

Insert your own joke here. I couldn't get mine past my editor.

Is there really that much legal or moral difference between the Champagne Club and a really good singles bar? That's not for me to say, but I suspect Paddock and city officials will get to the bottom of things eventually.

While they're at it, they may want to investigate why the club demands members provide photo IDs. As we're constantly reminded at election time, that's simply a sly way to exclude people. Surely sex isn't more discriminating than voting.

Is it?

At least the Health Department recently passed a new ordinance regulating the cleanliness of hotels.

In the meantime, unless the city decides otherwise, “Ho Ho Hoes” is still scheduled for Dec. 21.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.