The LDS Church might think a sexually oriented business in downtown Salt Lake City harms its business interests. But the man behind a planned strip club says it is the church that is harming him by turning downtown into what he calls its version of “Vatican City.”
The church sued Salt Lake City in October over its granting the Dead Goat Saloon an SOB license, and Dead Goat owner Daniel Darger has intervened in the case.
This week, in his latest response to the suit, Darger asked 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg to throw out the case. He also said the church shouldn’t be allowed to sue because of a doctrine called “unclean hands.”
The legal argument is the equivalent of accusing the pot of calling the kettle black. It also sets the stage for Darger to countersue the church, which he says he intends to do.
“Who the heck is going to want to go down to the Dead Goat and to rock concerts [in Darger's other properties] if everybody perceives the whole downtown being part of Temple Square? The value of my property is going to be impacted negatively,” Darger said in an interview Wednesday.
Darger is referring to the church’s plans to redevelop Main Street’s Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center malls. Crossroads is about a half-block from the Dead Goat, 119 S. West Temple.
As justification for the judge to deny the Dead Goat a license, the church cites a city ordinance that states SOBs contribute to urban blight.
The City Council said so when it recently passed a moratorium on downtown SOBs in response to Darger’s application for a semi-nude license.
The City Attorney says the moratorium doesn’t apply to the Dead Goat because Darger already had a license. But the church disagrees.
Darger suspects the church influenced the council to pass the moratorium. That sort of charge has frequently been alleged this year as the council has discussed church-related matters. The seven council members are all at least nominally Mormon.
Councilman Dave Buhler says he never spoke to church officials about the moratorium, adding that he didn’t need them to tell him to question the placement of SOBs downtown.
“I don’t think it’s ever come up” with the church, Buhler said.
LDS Church attorney Alan Sullivan declined to comment.
Darger says the church is trying to include his property in its downtown vision. Darger is a part owner of Arrow Press Square — which houses the Dead Goat, the lingerie shop Blue Boutique and offices. There are also two music venues nearby.
Darger once floated the idea of the church buying the Arrow Press building. He, the church and city officials recently attempted to settle the issue out of court, but the effort fizzled.
Darger claims his building is worth almost $3 million, and suggested the church should pay the same amount it did to the city for the easement across the church’s Main Street Plaza. The city received $4.5 million and land for the easement, allowing the church to impose speech and behavior restrictions.
The church, apparently, isn’t interested in Darger’s deal.
Darger says the church is also trying to control speech at the Dead Goat — which is also called Crazy Goat in legal papers, a reference to the famous burlesque strip club in Paris called the Crazy Horse Saloon — by trying to eliminate his SOB license.
The First Amendment argument is one Andrew McCullough is familiar with. McCullough, who recently agreed to work on the case, says he has sued Roy, Midvale, Ogden and South Salt Lake over SOB ordinances.
McCullough says he joined because Darger “thought that would give [the church] heartburn,” he said. “My interest is free speech and freedom of expression.”
Meantime, Darger has constructed a platform for the semi-nude dancers. Now, he just needs dancers, who must obtain licenses through the city.