- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. (AP) - When it comes to St. Louis attractions, the Delmar Loop shopping district arguably joins the Arch, Busch Stadium and Forest Park on the short-list for tourists and locals alike.

But for some neighbors, local politicians and a nearby Catholic university, the Loop’s image as a family-friendly destination - recognized by the American Planning Association as a top example of urban revitalization - shouldn’t include topless waitresses wearing strategically placed body paint.

A $51 million trolley construction project that has curtailed street parking prompted Loop business owner John Racanelli to close the six-year-old Market Pub House along the Loop’s main roadway the stretches into University City. In its place, he wants to open a risque sports bar called Social House II.

The University City Council voted unanimously last week to oppose the plan, suggesting such a bar could tarnish the Loop’s image and, based on complaints at the bar’s flagship location near downtown St. Louis, lead to increased crime and violence. Two days later, the city planning commission endorsed a zoning law change that would effectively keep the business away from University City, a suburb bordering St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The council is scheduled to vote on those zoning changes next week. And the building’s owner, who did not respond to several Associated Press requests for comment, has threatened legal action against his tenant. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he doesn’t plan to renew or extend Racanelli’s lease, which expires in March 2017.

The president of nearby Fontbonne University has told city leaders that the private school would stop referring students and their families to the Loop, and also discontinue hosting university events there. The proposed bar is across the street from a nonprofit arts organization with a summer program for children. It’s also near the city’s public library and a church preschool.

“The best indicator of future performance is previous performance,” said Loop restaurant owner Tom Schmidt, whose Salt + Smoke is located near the proposed Social House II. Schmidt said he recently closed another restaurant that shared a parking lot with the original Social House bar, in part because of what he called an excessive number of drunken fights, some involving weapons.

Albert Watkins, a lawyer representing Racanelli and his business partners, said the proposed bar would be an entirely different establishment and chided the project’s opponents for their “disingenuous piety.” He noted that while the Loop draws plenty of young families, it also attracts panhandlers and carousing college students from nearby Washington University.

He disputes University City’s contention that Racanelli needs new liquor and business licenses and an occupancy permit.

“As it stands right now, my client is seeking to do what is lawful,” Watkins said.


Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at https://twitter.com/azagier

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