While Scottsdale Mayor Herb Drinkwater boldly led the fight to keep Tiffany's Cabaret from opening its second "gentlemen's club" in the former Windmill Theater, a partnership that includes the mayor's son, Mark Drinkwater, may have been negotiating to buy the same property to open its own topless club.
The latest event in the tiff over Tiffany's came last Monday, when both sides pleaded their cases before Judge Robert Broomfield in the suit Tiffany's is bringing against the City of Scottsdale. A ruling is pending.
But the juiciest tidbit had been served up earlier in a deposition from Bill Wisniewski, the realtor who acts as go-between for Tiffany's and the building's owner, Anthony Miller.
During cross-examination, Tiffany's lawyer asked if anyone else negotiated to buy the property for "adult use," and Wisniewski responded under oath that there had been.
"One of them was the mayor's son," he said.
This may come as a surprise to Scottsdale citizens, since Mayor Drinkwater has spoken so forcefully against Tiffany's. Recently, in fact, the Scottsdale City Council allocated $50,000 in taxpayers' money to fight the club, and proposed an ordinance to ban topless dancing altogether.
Mark Drinkwater denies that he has any interests in the property. "That's a complete lie," he said. "I'd lose my ass there. The only way it's going to make money is if it is Tiffany's."
Curiously, Drinkwater brought up the allegation that he wanted to put in a topless bar before New Times could. "Why would I ruin my own business by opening a burlesque downtown?" he said. When pressed, he admitted that another associate had, in fact, approached him about the property, and that he had heard rumors about his own involvement. "I hear rumors about me every single day."
Tiffany's, a Tennessee-based chain, offered building owner Anthony Miller a reported $1.35 million in cash for the property, which now houses Stetson's nightclub. The City of Scottsdale has twice turned down the chain's applications for an adult-use permit because Scottsdale zoning will not allow such establishments within 500 feet of a school.
To exclude Tiffany's, the city first cited a day-care facility that has since moved out of the shopping center it shared with the Windmill Theater. It then cited a real estate school that rents classroom space to Rio Salado Community College for GED classes.
Scottsdale city fathers, however, appear to have different definitions of "schools" for different purposes. The two schools that kept Tiffany's out of the shopping center did not manage to exclude restaurants and nightclubs from the same mall--even though the state statute regulating the sale of liquor is even more stringent. It prohibits sales within 300 feet of a school; the adult-use permit cannot be within 500 feet of the school.
Yet the city has awarded several liquor licenses in the shopping mall, including one for Stetson's, well within the 300-foot limit of the establishments deemed "schools" to exclude the requested adult-use permits.
"They're interpreting the law to keep us out," charges Tiffany's manager Bill Methvin. He claims Scottsdale is prolonging the permit process in hopes the deal will fall through. Tiffany's filed suit in U.S. District Court and asked for an injunction allowing it to open, a tactic the chain has used successfully in other states.
Mayor Drinkwater and the Scottsdale City Council responded by allocating $50,000 for a legal fund and retaining the Phoenix law firm of Lewis and Roca to defend them in court. Drinkwater has been quoted as saying, "There are certain issues that you stand up on and you fight for because it is in the best interests of the city." He has also said, "It's not inexpensive to do what's right."
The mayor adamantly denies that his son is involved in any negotiation over the Windmill Theater property, but he, too, brought up the adult-use angle first.
"I've heard that rumor before. It's a bunch of bullshit," he said. "I can only assume someone is saying that to help their lawsuit."
It could certainly prove politically embarrassing, given the debate that Tiffany's has raised in Scottsdale. Last week, Scottsdale City Attorney Richard Garnett proposed an ordinance to the city council that would effectively ban all topless dancing and dancing for tips within the city limits. The timing was coincidental, he alleges. The proposed ordinance had been in the works since the last such ordinance was thrown out by the state Supreme Court in 1991 as too broad and vague.
"It's obvious that Tiffany's sped up the process," Garnett admits.
The newest proposal, however, was tabled by the council.
According to sources close to the deal, while negotiating with Tiffany's, building owner Anthony Miller was approached by developer Dennis Maestro with a back-up offer on the property if the Tiffany's deal fell through, provided he and his partners could get the appropriate adult-use permits. In subsequent meetings with Miller, Maestro introduced his partners, including Mark Drinkwater, who owns the nightclub Jetz at Camelback and 70th Street.
Leona Voltz, a realtor with Commercial Plus, is allegedly handling the offer. Voltz admits she has a deal pending on the property, but will not divulge her clients' names. "I just don't think it's up to me to say at this time," she says. Bill Wisniewski has the exclusive real estate listing on Miller's behalf on the Windmill Theater, but Voltz never contacted him, choosing instead to go directly to Miller.
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When contacted, Maestro first said he had no involvement in the deal, then admitted that Voltz did in fact bring him and Miller together "about six months ago," but he didn't pursue it. And he denies that Mark Drinkwater is interested.
Wisniewski stands firm. "Miller showed me the contract, and told me it was Maestro and Drinkwater," he says. He claims that he was present at a meeting at Jetz with Mark Drinkwater, and he assumed they were talking about the deal.
Miller did not want to comment. Mayor Drinkwater says, "I reckon my son will bring suit against [Wisniewski]. That's slanderous."
By another coincidence, one day after his deposition regarding Tiffany's and Mark Drinkwater, and shortly after his meeting with New Times, Bill Wisniewski says he was asked to resign from his realty company, West USA. But even that assertion is mired in dispute: "He's the one who said he's resigning," says West USA president Clay Fouts. "The way he does business leaves something to be desired.