The Vigo County Alcoholic Beverage Board on Monday denied a three-way liquor license to a corporation that sought to place an adult-orientated business on Terre Haute's north east side.

The board voted 3-0 to deny the license.

Joe Downing and Denise Wilhoit, listed as majority owners of Ruth + Bick Inc., sought the beer, wine and liquor license to open a bar-type business at 3295 N. Fruitridge Avenue, the site of a former Pizza Inn  in an industrial area that includes warehouses and manufacturing.

Illinois resident Mike Bickers purchased the property for $134,000 in June, 2018, according to county records. Bickers earlier this month was denied a petition for a special zoning use for an adult orientated business at the site before the Terre Haute Board of Zoning Appeals.

Indiana Excise Officer Brad Lutes, a member of the board, asked if the intent is to return before the zoning appeals board and again seek a special use for an adult entertainment facility.

"We would like to continue, to open a bar, serve pizza, have a regular bar until the future ... when we could possibly get that permit" for adult entertainment, Downing said. "It is my understanding we can do that sometime between now and a year.

"We would like to get open and get the place up and running and be able to hopefully build some clientele. Then when the process is available, we are going to apply again for that special permit and transform that location."

Board member Jeff Lind moved to deny the license, stating the applicants "do not possess a high and fine reputation." Lutes also stated granting a license would have a negative impact on other businesses in the community given the anticipated application for an for an adult entertainment business.

Lutes said business representatives, residents and the superintendent of the Vigo County School Corporation testified against an adult business earlier this month before the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Prior to the vote, Lutes questioned Downing if he or his businesses had violated any state alcoholic beverage laws. 

Lutes said Downing stated "no" on the application. However, Lutes said on March 10, 2018, Touch of Class Inc., doing business as Touch of Class Show Club in Crawfordsville, was cited and paid a $250 fine for allowing a minor to loiter. Downing owns that business.

"We thought that girl was going to audition and her friend did. That girl ended not auditioning and we received a violation," Downing said. 

"In my opinion that was not an alcohol violation, I am so sorry," Downing told the board. "... I misunderstood that violation; I apologize."

The board also did not seem satisfied the application was clear regarding ownership interests, including those of Mike Bickers, who also owns property that houses the adult entertainment business Club Koyote in West Terre Haute.

Downing eventually said Bickers had an interest in Ruth + Bick Inc.

Wilhoit, as president of Dirt Cheap Inc., owns and operates The Hideout Gentlemen’s Club in Douglas County, Illinois, near Tuscola. Bickers is also an officer in Dirt Cheap Inc.

Bickers at one point stood up, said he heard his name being discussed and wished to respond.

Lutes told Bickers that since he had not chosen to be sworn in, he would not be allowed to respond as the the board was only taking sworn testimony.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.

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