Strangling The Block in Red Tape

January 07, 1993

Protests from residential neighborhoods fearing a flood of prostitutes and strip-tease joints ended last year's attempts to legislate Baltimore's red-light district out of business. The city is trying again. Bills now before the City Council would subject adult entertainment businesses to so many rules they would soon be tied up in red tape.

Up to now, go-go bars largely have been regulated by the liquor board. The new plan is to grandfather existing adult entertainment businesses; new ones would be classified as non-conforming uses. All would be subject to zoning regulations.

If these bills are passed, any establishment featuring "total or partial nudity in person, on film, on slides or on video tapes" would need an annual license from the housing commissioner. An Adult Entertainment Business Commission, dominated by members nominated by the Citizens Planning and Housing Association and the Greater Baltimore Committee, would act as a referee in disputes.

Meanwhile, adult entertainment businesses would be permitted to remain open only between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. They could not solicit customers by keeping their doors open or by posting garish signs -- or by employing barkers on the sidewalks.

"I think it is a good compromise," says Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, who has been spearheading toughened regulation of smut-related businesses. "Adult entertainment goes with a city. Just like museums, stadiums or whatever."

Councilman Anthony Ambridge says the new measures succeed where last year's efforts failed. "I'd like to have something that won't be in court forever," he said, comparing the proposals to ordinances used to clean up Boston's Combat Zone.

The aim of this legislative attack is to spruce up The Block, the once-thriving night-club district on Baltimore Street. Now that spill-over from the Inner Harbor is turning the area into an adjunct of the commercial district, The Block needs a face-lift.

There is no reason why some adult entertainment uses could not coexist with the area's new office towers. They do in many other cities throughout the world. But as the nearby Brokerage complex is about to be turned into a children's museum, this is the time to rid The Block of the grime and sleaze. This is no longer part of the image Baltimore wants to project.

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