'Unholy alliance' of pastors and peep czars fights to save The Block

June 12, 1992|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

Some would call it a miracle: Ministers, churchgoers, and the owners of the notorious adult businesses on The Block banded together yesterday to denounce a City Council bill that would kill Baltimore's red light district.

Among the crowd of about 100 people who attended the planning commission's public hearing were peep-show and nightclub owners looking to protect their investments and religious folks looking to protect their neighborhoods.

"We have become strange bedfellows when I must be supportive of The Block business owners' efforts to keep their businesses ++ where they are," said the Rev. Harold Kidd of the Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church.

The bill would require adult entertainment businesses to relocate to heavy industrial zones no later than June 30, 1995. Mr. Kidd's church is in the 6th District, which contains heavy industrial zones.

Two other ministers also spoke against the bill, and another Cherry Hill resident, Cleoda Walker, told planning commission members that "we're a God-fearing people. . . . We're like Christian soldiers and we're going to march on to war" against the legislation.

The outrage against the bill was accentuated by owners from The Block who argued that they have carved their niche in Baltimore.

"People come to see The Block. I just had players from the Boston Red Sox, the California Angels and the winning jockey from The Preakness come and spend money at my bar," said Anthony Pulaski, who owns the Stage Door and Encore adult nightclubs.

The prospect of The Block, or remnants of it, moving into the heavily industrial neighborhoods brought on so much ire last night that the planning commission opted to postpone its recommendation to the City Council.

Referring to the coalition between the church community and The Block owners as "an unholy alliance," planning commission members decided after nearly four hours of testimony that they should wait up to a month before making a recommendation to the council.

"We have to avoid the appearance that we're just dumping adult entertainment in certain geographical areas," said commission member Lester Salamon.

The bill aims to essentially phase out The Block's 28 businesses, which some city officials argue have prompted too much crime )) and devalued downtown property values.

George G. Brown, the chairman of the city Board of Liquor License Commissioners, said The Block's day has passed.

"The Block has been a part of Baltimore history for many years. But this is a new day and a new era," Mr. Brown said. "The age of Blaze Starr has long passed. We must look at The Block with new eyes."

Blaze Starr, the famous Baltimore stripper from the 1950s, considered attending last night's hearing and was expected to speak in support of the bill. But she did not make an appearance.

Claude E. Hitchcock, an attorney representing a group of downtown property owners, supported the bill and said, "If it does not pass, Baltimore's Renaissance and future economic growth will be substantially impaired."

"We are concerned that the future of Baltimore City's economic progress cannot be put on hold by a few peep shows, burlesque bars and triple X-rated book stores," Mr. Hitchcock said.

Opponents argued that they had no objection to The Block being dissolved, but they didn't want to see it transferred.

Councilman John L. Cain, whose 1st District contains heavy industrial zones as does the 6th District, argued strongly against the bill, saying that "it does not eliminate The Block. It merely disperses The Block" to the 1st and 6th districts.

"I think what the bill is saying is that it isn't OK for the white-collar workers downtown to be exposed to The Block, but it is OK for the blue-collar workers," Mr. Cain said.

Although city officials said at the hearing that the bill has provisions which give the neighborhoods of the 1st and 6th districts some powers to control their fate, commission members wanted more time.

The Block owners asked the planning commission for the extension because they did not have enough time to prepare for the hearing.

"Right now I feel myself as a victim. We have our life savings at stake," said George Barzoucas, the owner of the Coney Island Restaurant.

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