Proposed zoning changes by the Town of Clarksville would not only kill a proposal to open a new adult business where the infamous Theatair X is located — it would ensure that no similarly salacious business could open on the property ever again.
While the town preps to consider the zoning changes at its next Plan Commission meeting on Wednesday, the newly proposed adult business, Clarksville Ministries, has yet to receive a temporary license that it’s applied for with the Town of Clarksville — possibly preventing it from being grandfathered in if the changes are adopted.
Theatair X’s current legal troubles started in 2018 when the Clarksville building commissioner performed an inspection of the property and found more than 20 “glory holes” between Theatair X’s peep show booths, according to legal documents. The saga ended with the adult superstore’s license being revoked by the town, a measure that a Clark County judge upheld as deserved earlier this month. Theatair X is now closed after an adult theater operating at the location on and off since 1971.
Clarksville Ministries is suing the Town of Clarksville for its failure to issue a license, as well as its proposed zoning changes, citing town law and constitutional violations. Clarksville Ministries — which, according to the lawsuit, has signed a purchase agreement on the Theatair X property — wants to open a retail sex shop and show movies at the location (similar to its former use under Midwest Entertainment Ventures). Clarksville Ministries has invested more than $100,000 into the business so far, according to a letter addressed to the Plan Commission.
Theatair X was allowed to operate under Clarksville’s previous zoning ordinance because it was located 500 feet away from residential (and other off-limits) areas. The proposed zoning changes increase that distance to 750 feet, which would disqualify Theatair X because of its proximity to the Clarksville Lofts development, according to the lawsuit.
The changes to the zoning code would push adult businesses to industrial zones. Scott Bergthold, a Tennessee attorney working with Clarksville on the changes, said that there are areas of the town where an adult business could conceivably open should the changes pass Clarksville Town Council.
Bergthold declined to comment on how the proposed changes would affect specific adult businesses, citing pending litigation.
Clarksville Ministries could seemingly be grandfathered in if it was “lawfully established and operating” before the zoning changes are adopted. But, the business applied for a license on Aug. 13 and has yet to receive one. According to its lawsuit, filed on Aug. 26, the last communication that Clarksville Ministries received from the town about its application was on Aug. 19 when Clarksville’s building commissioner said he would address the application “in due course.”
Clarksville’s current zoning laws say the town “shall” issue a temporary license “upon the filing of a completed application for an Adult Business License.”
In addition to the alleged glory holes, Clarksville police have documented sexual acts being performed in Theatair X’s “large” movie theaters. In 2019, Clarksville police officers arrested and charged patrons for public indecency and public nudity inside Theatair X’s two theater rooms, according to Judge Vicki Carmichael’s recent order. A man and woman were allegedly seen having sex in the middle of the theater, and two other patrons were openly masturbating.
But, Clarksville Ministries’ owner, Michael Sanchez, describes a different Theatair X than the one depicted in news reports and court documents. In a letter to the Clarksville Plan Commission, Sanchez touts Theatair X as “iconic” to the “local LGBTQ+ community” and a “center of LGBTQ+ acceptance for years,” employing many over the years. Sanchez herself is a “proud member of the LGBTQ+ community,” according to her letter. And, she says the city’s proposed changes would “prevent Clarksville’s LGBTQ+ community from having a safe place to shop that caters to their community.”
In a similar vein, the letter objects to Bergthold’s involvement in the case. The attorney specializes in drafting and defending municipal adult business regulations. In 2016, some Dallas, Texas council members objected against working with Bergthold, citing a history of the lawyer working against LGBTQ+ causes.
Bergthold said Sanchez’s letter contained false statements, adding that that he joined Clarksville’s case after the town had already revoked Theatair X’s license.
In the past, Metro Louisville has worked with Bergthold, hiring him to work on its adult business regulations, according to the attorney’s website.