The owners of Muncie's planned White Diamonds Gentlemen's Club may never get their chance to open the city's third major strip club if a New York-based realtor and local officials have the final say.
On Wednesday, Delaware Circuit Court 2 Judge Richard Dailey granted Marmunce Realty of New York -- owners of the building where the strip club is to be located -- a temporary restraining order. The order would deny club owners Walter Nebel and Sam Stimmel entrance into the commercial property the realtors claim the two men have no legal right to be in.
Local attorney Steve Murphy, who is representing Marmunce in the case, said the realtors never gave Nebel and Stimmel written consent for the two men to occupy the commercial storefront they have begun to remodel near Broadway and East McGalliard Road.
Stimmel, however, said a contract had been arranged between the club and realtor last March in what he now considers to be a verbal lease.
"Walter made sure they knew a gentlemen's club was going up there and they sent us a draft of a written lease which we then returned," Stimmel, who owns another topless bar called Stimmelators in North Webster, said. "We were never given a signed copy back, but we had every impression that this realtor knew what we were doing."
Stimmel's daughter and club manager, Tracy Stimmel, argues that her father was provided with a key to enter the building and utilities were signed over in their name. She also said blueprints Stimmel had drawn up for the club were then sent to the realtor but never questioned or returned.
"We talked to them on the phone numerous times about work we were doing to the building," Stimmel added. "Months went by before we heard any objection."
Murphy said the realtor had provided Nebel and Stimmel with keys to the building but not with the intention for the two men to begin construction work.
"Those keys were for getting in and doing measurements," Murphy said. "My people say they never instructed for them to do anything more than that."
In addition to the temporary restraining order placed against them, the club's owners were dealt a second blow Wednesday when Dailey heavily reduced the amount of money Marmunce was to pay White Diamonds in return for remodeling costs to the building and loss of business.
Stimmel, who estimates he has invested more than $100,000 in the bar already, was stunned when Dailey told Murphy the realtor should post a security bond for only $1,000 instead of the $65,000 requested.
"I knew Muncie was serious about getting us out of here," Stimmel said, "but it wasn't until I heard that judge say '$1,000' that I realized how serious this was."
The realtor has also requested Nebel and Stimmel to restore the building back to the way it was when they first entered it -- work that would require thousands of dollars to tear out restrooms and bar furniture that has already been installed.
"We never expected for this strip club to be embraced by the community," Tracy Stimmel said. "But the way the courts have handled this case has been a total slap in the face.
"I felt like the judge already had his mind made up."
Stimmel said he believes Marmunce would not have protested the strip club renting the building if it were not for the objections of several surrounding business owners who lease from the realtor.
"Marsh and Dave's Video have been our biggest opposers," Stimmel said. "But I don't understand how Dave's can oppose our business when a 16-year-old can walk into that store and browse their adult video section with no questions asked."
White Diamonds, which would cater to clients 18 and older, was originally scheduled to open Oct. 11 before its opening was then postponed to Oct. 25.
Murphy said Marmunce chose to sue the club owners for eviction last Friday when the realtor heard the club was intending to open its doors for business.
"We had filed a complaint earlier, but when we learned they were actually going to open we needed to move on an emergency basis," Murphy said. "It could have been a real liability for the owner to have the public trespassing on the premises."
Nebel said the delays in the club's opening have been both frustrating and disappointing.
"I played fair and laid all the cards out on the table when I first leased this building," he said. "I don't feel the judge looked at the law the way it should have been looked at."
But Murphy said he believes the judge was fair in his ruling Wednesday.
"We're talking about brazen trespassers who knew they shouldn't have incurred the remodeling expenses they did," Murphy said. "I think the judge was right in being unsympathetic to their requests for such a huge bond."
Nebel said he now plans to appeal the case with an out of county judge who he hopes will rule in their favor.
"Hopefully that will come in two to three weeks," he said. "But we've still lost a lot of business already."
In addition to the restraining order, White Diamonds was also denied its liquor license by the Delaware County Alcoholic Beverage Commission in September.
Tracy Stimmel said it was not until after the board ruled against their license request that the owners decided to then make the club open to 18-year-old customers. She said they are now trying to appeal the board's decision to the state Alcohol and Tobacco Commission.
"I think they thought we would just give up then," she said of the board's decision. "So far they've tried to shut us down at every turn."
Stimmel, a Ball State graduate, said he is not a business man looking to "rock the boat," but is determined to see his strip club open.
"I will bend over backward to work with people and the community," he said.
Tracy Stimmel said she is most upset about disappointing students who were anxious for the strip club's opening next Friday.
"I feel like we let a lot of people down because we spread the word so many times," she said. "I hope students will continue to support us.
"I just want them to understand why these things are happening.",,2('?O*FWhite DiamondsDNEditorial,,2SORT+â-++â-ä2AUDT