City leaders believe Charm City would sparkle without The Block

April 28, 1992|By Robert Hilson Jr and Michael A. Fletcher | Robert Hilson Jr and Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writers

Calling The Block crime-ridden and a detriment to development, City Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, yesterday introduced a bill that would put the notorious red-light district out of business by June 1995.

The zoning bill, which is backed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, would prohibit adult entertainment businesses throughout downtown and most of Baltimore. They would be permitted only as conditional uses in manufacturing districts.

"The Block isn't what it used to be," Mr. Cunningham said. "It certainly isn't the final destination for many bachelor parties anymore."

Once bold and bawdy, The Block has been whittled away over the years to a faded, two-block strip of bars, peep shows and erotic bookstores along East Baltimore Street.

And more change is on the way. Work on the East Baltimore line of the subway is proceeding under East Baltimore Street. In recent years the city opened a new municipal office building along the strip. Work is also being completed on a new office tower on The Block. City planners envision more of the same in The Block's future -- if the red light goes out.

The bill is the result of an 18-month study by the city, and envisions considerable growth downtown. The study also feels that drugs, prostitution and crime in and around The Block have a negative effect on visitors and residents.

The police list 10 businesses on the strip as "public nuisances," because of crimes that have occurred there.

But for Block regulars, all that government talk misses the point.

At least three times a week for the past year, Michael Cade has spent much of his lunch hour on The Block. He can find a sandwich at any downtown eatery, so food isn't why he visits The Block.

"To be honest, I come down here because it's nice to see a little show after I'm done eating," said Mr. Cade, a postal worker. "You know, check out one or two of the clubs or bars and see something good."

Each day, scores of people are drawn to the clubs and peep shows. Michael Hyatt, manager at the Block Arcade, said The Block is a valuable source of entertainment.

"Our handsome mayor is causing the problem," he said. "He justdoesn't want The Block here anymore. I tend to disagree with him, though."

Mr. Hyatt said that if adult entertainment is run out of downtown, the same type of stores and shops would turn up in another part of the city. But the bill would not allow businesses from The Block to recongregate in another part of the city.

Many patrons feel the entertainment found on The Block is harmless, and some noted that the area is patrolled by many police officers from the nearby Central District police lockup and the police headquarters building.

But Denny Briscoe, who works in a downtown law firm, said security in the area could be bolstered by more beat officers.

"Whether the city wants to admit it or not, The Block has been around for a long time because, plain and simple, a lot of people want to see this kind of entertainment," Mr. Briscoe said.

Joe, who works at the Sweden Book Store, feels there is a desire for adult entertainment in the city.

"Whether they like this or not, there are a lot of people who come downtown just to come here," he said.

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