By Elizabeth Perry
Stowe Township officials disclosed more details about the July removal of a $25,000 permit fee against the only strip club in town.
During the commissioner’s July 11 meeting, officials waived a $12,500 fee True Diamonds adult entertainment club owners were expected to pay. The fee had been increased specifically for the owners of True Diamonds from $7,500 to $15,000 in 2017.
It was then further increased to $25,000 in 2018 and then lowered to $12,500 in 2022.
Following the July 11 action by commissioners, the club outwardly changed its name. On Aug. 9, signs identifying True Diamonds were taken down and a banner was placed over the front of the building at the corner of Island Avenue and Tunnel Way renaming the adult entertainment site “Club Imperium.”
The initial filing date with the state for the creation of Club Imperium, LLC – a Domestic Limited Liability Company – occurred Aug. 3. True Diamonds LLC was initially filed for on July 8, 2016. Both are listed as active.
Prior to a Right to Know request filed by Gazette 2.0 on Aug. 7, two Stowe commissioners and the solicitor were unable to give details about when the original fee was set or how much that was.
After the request was made, Stowe officials produced the original ordinance which was passed on Aug. 9, 1994, and the subsequent amendment passed in 2017.
The township adopted the initial ordinance enacting a $7,500 licensing fee for “sexually oriented” businesses in 1994. In 2017, the board of commissioners enacted an ordinance that increased the fee to $15,000, with a provision that for every year thereafter, the fee would be $25,000.
The original ordinance was designed to limit sexually oriented businesses, like strip clubs, in the township to avoid a “concentration” of such businesses because of their “deleterious” effect on the “safety and general welfare of the citizens of the municipality.”
According to the original ordinance, sexually oriented businesses are not allowed to operate within 5,000 feet of one another to be measured in a straight line to avoid creating a district catering to such businesses. That’s a little less than a mile, or the length of 14 football fields. The business which was established first is considered a “conforming business.”
Technically located in neighboring McKees Rocks, Club Erotica operates – according to Google Maps – 1,584 feet or three-tenths of a mile from the Stowe strip club. While Club Erotica was established in the year 2000, True Diamonds’ initial filing occurred in 2016. Before that, an adult entertainment club which opened in 2013 named Silky’s was located at the former True Diamonds site.
McKees Rocks Council President Archie Brinza said he thought the fact that the two business locations were in two different municipalities made the rule moot.
Additionally, the Stowe ordinance specifies that the business license should be displayed prominently on the outside of the building. As of Sept. 15, there was no license displayed.
Solicitor Brad Matta had said at that time that he believed the payment increases were suggested by the proprietor of the club Matthew Marshall as an offer of “goodwill” so the township would not shut the establishment down.
In recent years, several high-profile cases occurred at the former True Diamonds location which drew negative attention to the establishment.
In 2021, a man was shot and critically wounded in front of the club. That same year, the establishment was raided and the owner was charged with illegal alcohol sales. In 2020, a 22-year-old woman was shot and killed during an exchange of fire between club security guards and a patron who was later convicted of her murder.
At the time the licensing fee was repealed, Commissioner’s President Kelly Cropper-Hall and Commissioner Dave Rugh said they had repealed the fee because there had been fewer police calls to the business.
“There were meetings with the owner to review and discuss expectations (SIC) and benchmarks. The issues we had with True Diamonds have been reduced or corrected,” Cropper-Hall said via email.
As part of the Right to Know requests, the Stowe Township Police provided information regarding the police actions they had been called to at Club Imperium/True Diamond by year. In total, since 2017, Stowe police reported a total of 23 incidents occurring in the club, including a sexual assault and shots being fired inside. Outside of the club, they related 59 incidents which were a direct result of the activities within the establishment. That’s 82 incidents in six-and-a-half years; two of those years were subject to Covid-19 lockdowns. The adult club opens at 1 a.m. and only operates three nights a week on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Additionally, police responded to 153 calls on the property they categorized as unrelated to activities within the club.
The department also provided a breakdown of incidents by year. As of the report sent on Sept. 14, there have been 10 incidents outside and one inside in 2023. For the three previous years, there were eight total incidents outside of the club. These include the aforementioned murder. In 2017, the year the augmented $25,000 fee was imposed, there were eight incidents outside the club and four inside.