The Block: Ripe for Redevelopment

January 18, 1994

That high-publicity raid of The Block last Friday night is unlikely to put Baltimore's seedy red-light district out of business overnight. But it increases already heavy pressures on property owners to re orient businesses from sin to more wholesome endeavors. The Block is ripe for redevelopment.

In its heyday in the early 1950s, The Block was an attraction known far and wide. No fewer than 68 establishments had liquor licenses within a three-block stroll of the 400 block East Baltimore Street. Even senators and congressmen from Washington would come over occasionally for a night out. An Orioles pennant race always ended in a celebration there.

Those glory days are long gone. The Block is a dying relic. The more than 500 state troopers and National Guardsmen who descended on the flesh pots have accelerated that process.

It is not often that the State Police are agents of redevelopment, but in this case they clearly were. The huge raid -- sanctioned by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- should be followed up with a stricter every-day enforcement of liquor laws and health codes on The Block. If this is done, establishments involved in lawlessness will get the message.

The clock has been ticking on The Block since 1991, when a blue-ribbon panel mulling over Baltimore's future, declared: "Eliminate The Block. . . without dispersing its activities to other inappropriate areas. Redevelop East Baltimore Street for office and retail uses."

We are certain that this gradual redevelopment will quicken when a new Metro station opens near the Shot Tower in the summer of 1995, increasing the value and attractiveness of properties near City Hall. The area's transformation should be further aided by plans to open a children's museum at the Brokerage complex and the forthcoming expansion of the Baltimore City Life Museums.

In sprucing up the area, Baltimore Street will play a central role. Buildings now occupied by strip-tease bars and peep shows could house dry cleaners and dentists. There could be some clubs and restaurants. There could be boutiques and galleries. The mix could be something similar to what Philadelphia has on its South Street, a hip and youth-oriented entertainment area.

None of that will happen, however, as long as The Block's seediness continues. Last weekend's raid should be the starting point of a concentrated drive to clean out The Block for good.

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