Uptown Cabaret owner Brian Dominick was looking to expand his topless club at Morehead and Tryon streets and potentially develop the surrounding block. So in March 2010, he approached Charlotte city officials about his plans.
On the list to attend one meeting was then-City Council member Patrick Cannon, who had budding political and business connections with the club owner. Starting in 2009, Cannon had begun receiving campaign contributions from Dominick and associates that would eventually tally more than $17,000. His E-Z Parking company would also manage lots around the club.
Emails obtained by the Observer through a public records request do not show city officials making any concessions to Dominick, and they don’t indicate whether Cannon participated in the meeting. But they do show top city staffers, including deputy city manager Ron Kimble, paying close attention to the project.
Dominick is not the only strip club owner with ties to Cannon, the former Charlotte mayor who pleaded guilty in June to a public corruption charge. Federal prosecutors allege Cannon accepted a bribe in January 2013 from a club owner – identified by the Observer as David “Slim” Baucom – whose establishment was in the path of the Blue Line light-rail extension.
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The Uptown Cabaret may now also be of interest to federal prosecutors, the emails suggest.
On April 22, a Mecklenburg County information technology manager requested a review of Uptown Cabaret-related records, according to one email. That’s the same day federal prosecutors issued a subpoena to the county for a broad swath of documents. The email also requests information about Baucom and his clubs.
County Attorney Marvin Bethune declined to comment on the email. A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins also declined to comment but said the Cannon investigation is ongoing. Cannon declined to comment for this story.
James Wyatt, an attorney for Dominick, said his client is “fully prepared and willing to answer any questions that may be asked of him by the United States Attorney’s Office.”
Dominick would “be happy to answer any and all further questions once the government’s investigation of others is completed,” Wyatt added.
Kimble said he and other city officials handled Dominick’s inquiries appropriately, like any other project. “We did a thorough review and did it thoughtfully,” Kimble said.
Emails detail discussions
Emails starting in March 2010 show discussions between Dominick and city officials over standards that needed to be met as part of an expansion to his club, which opened in the mid-1990s just blocks from the city’s bank towers and the Carolina Panthers’ stadium.
Early that month, city officials arranged a meeting with Dominick to discuss “zoning/South Tryon/driveway/sidewalk issues related to the Uptown Cabaret site,” according to an email sent by a city land manager. Charlotte Department of Transportation officials were also set to meet with Dominick about a plan to reduce lanes on South Tryon street, according to the email.
In addition to Cannon, then-Assistant City Manager Jim Schumacher and Planning Director Debra Campbell were on the list to attend one of the meetings.
Afterward, Dominick thanked Kimble, the deputy city manager, and his staff. Dominick wrote in an email that he was reassured that the Tryon Street lane reduction would have no effect on his plan to eliminate the College Street connector, a street that runs diagonally through his property.
“The information provided was quite useful in my efforts of converting the block into a high- to mid-rise mixed-use development,” Dominick wrote, adding he was actively marketing the property through the CBRE real estate firm.
On March 11, 2010, Kimble asked Campbell where her department stood on the review of Dominick’s request. She said there were no changes her staff could make for Dominick, but she would support a rezoning that would allow the club to “opt out of the standards.” Property records, however, show the club didn’t pursue a rezoning.
In an interview, Kimble said he recalls convening city staff to talk generally about “the categories of standards that would need to be met” for the proposed expansion, such as setbacks, sidewalk widths, height of structures, parking spaces, driveways, buffer yards and trees.
On March 23, 2010, Campbell asked Shad Spencer, another city official, to get in touch with the club about the “specific requirements that must be met.” She also asked Spencer to clarify that the city wasn’t making any “concessions,” saying there was a “miscommunication between staff and the owners about the extent of the standards that needed to be met.”
The emails indicate that Spencer talked with the club about sidewalk and planting-strip requirements, and that the Uptown Cabaret had no objections.
A building permit was taken out in February 2011 for the $350,000 expansion, according to county records. The contractor on the project was the Baucom Group & Associates, which is run by “Slim” Baucom’s son, W.D. Baucom.
Nearly a year later, in January 2012, Kimble checked in on the project, asking a city official to “resolve outstanding issues regarding” the certificate of occupancy for the project, the emails indicate. The club received its certificate on Feb. 14, 2012, county records show.
Kimble handles economic development issues for the city and often works closely with the city’s hospitality industry, including the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority and the Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance, a lobbying group.
When the City Council voted to hire Ron Carlee as city manager in early 2013, Cannon was the only elected official to vote against him. Cannon wanted Kimble for the top job.
In an interview, Kimble said Cannon never contacted him about the Uptown Cabaret.
“I was contacted by Brian Dominick,” Kimble said. “He asked if he could talk about his future plans and what would be the development standards that he would have to meet. When he met with me, I included as many people as I could. I included the proper city staff members.”
Kimble said Dominick and staff talked about the club expanding as well as long-term plans for the property.
Dominick, he said, “wanted to know, ‘What would happen if I expanded? What would happen if I sold it and tore it down?’ ”
Asked about the FBI investigation, Kimble said it would be inappropriate to comment. Carlee has said that he and other city officials have been interviewed by federal investigators but has declined to provide other names.
Campbell in March released a statement saying that she has “always demonstrated the highest level of professionalism and integrity.”
Two years after the Uptown Cabaret completed its expansion, more changes are in the works at the club.
Since Cannon’s arrest, the club has dropped the former mayor’s parking company, E-Z Parking, which handled parking around the Uptown Cabaret since at least the summer of 2011.
And in May, the Observer reported that the three-acre property where the Uptown Cabaret and the Midnight Diner are located is on the market for $20 million, according to a real estate listing. The College Street connector still runs through the property.
“The property or pieces of the property have been up for sale since 2007,” Wyatt, Dominick’s attorney, said. “There is nothing unusual about the property being for sale.” Staff researcher Maria David and staff writers Steve Harrison, Gavin Off and Ames Alexander contributed.