City condemning unpermitted internet cafes

On Monday, unpermitted adult arcades were given 24 hours to close or face arrest

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Corley Peel - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The city of Jacksonville on Tuesday began condemning unpermitted adult arcades, also known as internet cafes or cybercafes. 

Police code enforcement and fire inspectors checked out adult gaming locations, letting some owners know they are out of business, after a city spokesperson said Monday that unpermitted adult arcades in Jacksonville were given until 5 p.m. Tuesday to move out and anyone remaining thereafter faces a risk of being arrested.

The city of Jacksonville said the businesses will be checked Wednesday, and at that time, officers will begin arresting employees on a trespassing charge if the site is condemned. Customers will be given a chance to leave, but if anyone refuses, they, too, will be arrested.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were signs posted at several internet cafes indicating that the properties had been condemned. 

Sweeps Royale on Normandy Boulevard was among the sites. The owner, Rima Ray, said she believes her business did have the proper permits and should be treated like the other adult arcades, which have until February before they have to close. 

“They are trying to nitpick everything to shut us down,” Ray said.  "Give us eight months. Let us die in peace.”

The city said its reason for shutting down internet cafes is because they are a public nuisance.

"They are not," Ray said. "Here's the thing:  Most of our customers are older ladies (who) just need something to do and we have security at night and we make sure we keep all of the shady people out."

Also on Tuesday, city inspectors were inside Lucky Duck on Blanding Boulevard, checking the certificate of use, which is the permit issued by the city that allows the sites to be open. Before inspectors arrived, News4Jax was inside, talking with the manager, who said the site had a current certificate and that it appeared to be valid. News4Jax asked inspectors whether they were going to condemn the site and they said they were checking the certificate. About an hour later, inspectors condemned the site.

In May, the Jacksonville City Council approved a measure to shut down all permitted adults arcades by February. Originally, those without a permit were informed they must shut down by Monday evening.

The city started with a list of 23 unpermitted sites ordered to shut down, but that number has dropped to about 16. More than 100 other sites with city permits, including Paradise Fun Zone on Beach, have until February to shut down. Two of the unpermitted sites threatened a lawsuit and settled out of court. They will be allowed to remain open temporarily for now. Ray said Tuesday that she plans to sue the city to remain open.

Milad Mshaba recently took ownership of an arcade, but he is worried since he does not know what will happen next.

“We’ll just go ahead and we’ll open it and when they come in to shut it down, we’ll just try to, if they can, give me just a little bit of time," he said. “I have no idea about the future. I have no idea. We’ll just try to survive here.”

Because code enforcement officials, building and zoning officials and the Sheriff's Office are investigating, it's unclear how many businesses will be closed as the city continues the process of condemning unpermitted internet cafes.

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