When a cabaret lounge with leopard-skin bar chairs, chrome stripper poles and flat screen TVs opened in Opa-locka earlier this year, it represented a bit of progress.
In a poor city that has long struggled to attract new businesses, flashy Klub 24 was a big-bucks investment. The club, which renovated a warehouse once occupied by a defunct restaurant called Crabby’s, opened in mid-January in a celebration complete with limos and expensive bubbly.
Trouble soon followed.
To the apparent surprise of some, the stripper poles at Klub 24 are used by actual strippers and that commercial activity is not allowed in Opa-locka, at least without city commission approval. Now, Klub 24 is at the center of a political and legal mess in a city infamous for both. Opa-locka is under a long-running FBI corruption probe that has already seen a former city manager and commissioner convicted of shakedowns.
The controversy over Klub 24 — named for its sleepless operating hours — isn’t about corruption but more mundane city codes and permits. Who goofed up giving the thumbs-up and, given that the place has been humming for more than a month, what if anything can be done?
Just a week after the opening, the city attorney offered his legal opinion that Opa-locka’s government had messed up, concluding the nightclub “cannot operate an adult entertainment business.” Indeed, no other strip club exists in Opa-locka.
There is a lot of finger-pointing, but the blame has fallen mostly on the city’s building director. He issued Klub 24 a temporary occupancy certificate to operate seven days a week around the clock — despite the fact that Opa-locka’s zoning law prohibits adult entertainment, at least without permission from the city commission and planning council.
But Klub 24, whose owners claim to have invested $1.5 million in the strip joint, never obtained those key approvals.
“How did an adult entertainment establishment that violates so many of our laws receive a temporary certificate of occupancy?” Commissioner Matthew Pigatt said at a recent commission meeting. “Public nudity cannot happen 24 hours [a day] in this city. Our code [enforcement officers] and police should be shutting it down, and for some reason that is not happening.”
Pigatt said Klub 24’s occupancy certificate was rushed, pointing out that its original 2017 application had “scratches and Wite-Outs” on it. “This is a problem,” he said.
The building director, Daniel Abia, said Friday that city zoning and licensing officials were involved in approving Klub 24’s adult entertainment application before he granted its temporary 90-day occupancy certificate in mid-January. It expires April 20.
Abia said by that deadline, all final building code, fire safety and legislative approvals must be met — or he will shut down the strip club.
“If Klub 24 does not meet those requirements by then, I will yank their temporary occupancy license,” Abia said. “I will not issue the [permanent] certificate of occupancy.”
Abia said he is being framed as a “scapegoat” for simply doing his job the right way.
At a Feb. 15 commission meeting, City Manager Ed Brown dodged any responsibility by saying he could not shut down Klub 24 since the building director issued the temporary certificate of occupancy. “I don’t have the power to open and close businesses,” Brown told the commission.
He also warned Opa-locka commissioners that the city might be sued if it closed Klub 24 after issuing the occupancy license, saying “you have to be prepared to pay.”
The city attorney, who was asked by the commission to give his legal opinion a week after the strip club opened on Jan. 17, said Opa-locka should never have issued the occupancy certificate.
Opa-locka lawyer Vincent Brown noted in a memo that Klub 24 “is not permitted to operate an ‘adult entertainment’ business” in the city, stressing it is “specifically prohibited” in the zoning code. He also said Klub 24 failed to seek approval from the city commission and planning council “after being informed multiple times to do so” over the past two years.
Perhaps most puzzling, “the temporary certificate of occupancy was issued for a restaurant, lounge and cabaret, but not for ‘adult entertainment,’ ” Brown said, concluding it was “improperly issued.”
“Everybody wants to see businesses flourish in Opa-locka, but we have to go about doing it the right way,” Brown told the commissioners in mid-February. “I am very troubled by how this process occurred.”
The city attorney also said in his memo that Miami-Dade County’s fire inspection of the strip club was not done correctly. He said “Klub 24 was inspected as a restaurant and not as a nightclub,” and there are different public safety standards for each. He concluded Klub 24 “has not passed a fire inspection for its current use.”
Yet, the 5,000-square-foot strip club — standing at the corner of a bustling intersection where Opa-locka Boulevard meets the Le Jeune-Douglas Connector Road — remains open for business 24/7 with nude dancing women and predictably pricey drinks.
“If you’re a Baller on a budget, this is not the club for you,” one customer wrote in a Yelp review.
Klub 24’s general manager, Giovanni Acajosi, seemed unfazed by the city’s controversy over his strip joint.
“I have a license to operate,” Acajosi said, pointing to the club’s temporary certificate of occupancy hanging on a wall by the entrance. “This will be resolved. Whatever requirements we’re supposed to meet, we will meet all of them.”
The manager, noting Klub 24 is owned by the same company that operates the high-end Booby Trap strip-club chain, said: “We’re going to stay in business.”
But, most likely, not without a fight from Pigatt, who has no allies among the other four commissioners. In 2016, Pigatt defeated Luis Santiago, the former commissioner who was recently sentenced to four years in prison on a bribery conviction.
“The club is still open and acting like nothing is wrong,” Pigatt told the Miami Herald on Friday. “I think it’s outrageous that this has happened. We have to ensure our laws are enforced.”