Busting The Block

January 18, 1994

Friday night's raid of 24 sex-oriented businesses on The Block ought to launch a systematic campaign by municipal authorities to eradicate Baltimore's once-thriving red-light district. Officials have been too lax for too long in enforcing liquor laws and health codes to police prostitution, loan-sharking, gambling and drug peddling just around the corner from City Hall and police headquarters.

In its heyday in the 1950s, The Block with its dozens of girlie bars may have been an asset for Baltimore. But those days are long gone.

Today it is a deterrent to downtown redevelopment. The sooner it is put out of business, the better.

This has been the long-term goal of the Schmoke administration since 1991, when a blue-ribbon panel recommending a 20-year strategy for downtown Baltimore urged elimination of The Block and redevelopment of East Baltimore Street for office and retail uses.

Indeed, the area could easily become another South Street, the trendy and youthful Philadelphia district of night clubs, restaurants and boutiques. However, none of that is going to happen as long as seedy sex-peddling remains.

The time is ripe to get rid of The Block as an undesirable anachronism.

A new Metro station at the Shot Tower will open in the summer of 1995, increasing the value and attractiveness of the area which is already served by an interstate highway. As the Christopher Center for Marine Biotechnology opens and new plans are developed for the Baltimore City Life Museums, the Power Plant, the Fishmarket and the Brokerage, real estate on The Block is a logical spot for developers to expand tourism-generated retail and entertainment action.

Meanwhile, the thousands of people working in nearby offices will need services that could be located along The Block. Dry cleaners, physicians' and dentists' offices, places to eat. The list goes on and on.

In less than 20 years, the Inner Harbor has given Baltimore a new image, making the city an increasingly attractive tourist and convention destination. But that is not enough. The city has to constantly reinvent itself and improve its appearance. The natural candidate for such sprucing up is The Block, a shamefully seedy center of questionable activity in close proximity to the city's major administrative offices.

Getting rid of The Block is a win-win situation for Baltimore. Vacant commercial real estate would become more desirable, and the city's image would improve. Friday night's raid started a cleaning-up process that should be continued aggressively.

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