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There goes the neighbourhood: Fredericton buys only strip club in town

An exotic dancer takes the stage at a Toronto strip club in Oct. 14, 2010.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Ah, summer, when days are long, nights are hot and politicians turn their attention to... strip clubs.

On Monday, Fredericton city council approved the purchase of the city's only strip club - the North Star Sports Bar Pub & Eatery - authorizing $500,000 in hopes of improving the neighbourhood.

The area on the city's north side has been gentrifying and some felt the 16-year-old bar was at odds with new condos nearby. And reports that the Hells Angels might be looking at the property as a clubhouse helped spur council into action.

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Critics said the price was too high and that it was a poor precedent to set about the city's priorities. But it was the combination of sex and organized crime that sparked a flurry of interest, quickly pushing the story up the local news agenda.

"The end of an era for Fredericton, many a 19th birthday have been had at this fine establishment," a reader posted at the site for local CBC news. "Farewell North Star, I will see you behind a plastic shower curtain heaven someday."

But councillor Stephen Chase, the city's development committee chairman, characterizes it as a simple real estate decision.

"Whether it was a strip club or not, it was a bar and it did cause some social dislocation," he said, sighing at what he called a flood of media interest. "The city bought the property because it was a strategic ... opportunity."

The city is paying a nearly 40-per-cent premium over the property's assessed value. Mr. Chase said they hope a new use will raise the value of both that property and those nearby, boosting overall tax revenues from the area.

Opponents on council balked at the price and asked about the city's priorities. There are many other properties throughout the city that neighbours don't like, critics noted, should the taxpayer start buying all of them? And a bartender at the club said the possibility that bikers were eyeing the property was "an urban myth."

But the deal is done. The bar will close within weeks, putting out of work five dancers and about 25 other staff. Newly of-age Frederictonians will have to find somewhere else to celebrate.

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If anything, council has at least learned the effects of lobbing a softball story in the summer, the news-starved time of year journalists often call the silly season.

"It's shifted from a legitimate land-use issue to a moral story, and then the Hells Angels are [supposedly]involved, and it's not about that," Mr. Chase said. "I've been getting more calls than I expected. More than I think it deserves."

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