Night club zone seen Schmoke seeks area downtown for late dancing, drinking

Doesn't want new 'Blocks'

Howard Street is leading candidate for entertainment zone

December 13, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

In what is envisioned as a less risque version of The Block in Baltimore, several locations throughout the city are under consideration as a specially designated area for young adults and tourists to dance and drink late into the night.

City leaders want to establish a single "entertainment zone" downtown. They are considering at least the southern portion of Howard Street, Central Avenue south of Fayette Street and unspecified sections of Charles Street, according to several officials.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that his choice is the intersection of Howard and Fayette streets, near the Inner Harbor, because there are several empty storefront buildings and Light Rail and Metro service there.

"I don't want to see a lot of new 'Blocks' pop up around the city," Schmoke said. "I'm more interested in having a place for young people to go and dance and young adults to congregate, and another site in the area for conventioneers."

For the past several weeks, Schmoke, the City Council and other city officials have found themselves caught between residents who want to oust the noisy and often violence-prone nightclubs from their neighborhoods and residents who see the clubs as an important part of the city's night life.

For Schmoke, the establishment of an entertainment zone is a good compromise. Many of the clubs would be concentrated in one area, therefore fewer neighborhoods would be affected.

Some merchants on Howard Street are not happy that late-night clubs could be moving in. They worry that violence will increase and scare away shoppers.

"If you are looking for an area where young people can party, take it somewhere out of the downtown area," said Milt Rosenbaum, a merchant and co-chairman of the Howard Street Task Force that is working to revitalize the crumbling retail area.

"Put it into an industrial park, where you don't interfere with anybody. That way you don't do any property damage and the noise won't bother people."

For at least a year, the city has been studying Howard Street as a revitalized hub for restaurants, cultural attractions and live entertainment. The mayor said that late-night clubs would fit well into the existing plans.

Proponents of longer nightclub hours say that Baltimore offers very little for conventioneers, tourists and youths who want to legally dance and drink late in the night. They also point to Washington and Philadelphia as places with an active late-night club scene.

Already, state and local politicians are working to change the laws to allow clubs to have drinking and dancing extend beyond 2 a.m, the time when those types of nightclubs have to close.

State Del. Talmadge Branch of Baltimore is drafting legislation to allow the later hours at liquor establishments. Last week, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III put together a task force to quickly study how after-hours clubs can best fit into the city.

Fifth District Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings heads the task force, which will be composed of city officials, nightclub owners and residents. A plan is expected by February.

"An entertainment zone at first glance seems like a good idea, but my concern is what that does to existing nightclubs that are out of that zone," Rawlings said.

Although city officials say that they will not close down existing nightclubs if an entertainment zone is established, it is clear that they hope the owners will relocate -- especially given the recent city crackdown on nightclubs.

For weeks now, zoning officials and police officers have been shutting down nightclubs for the smallest of infractions.

But in the spirit of compromise, Schmoke yesterday said he would ease up on the nightclub owners. The city will close nightclubs only for egregious violations, such as illegally operating as an adult club, and not for technical ones as has happened in the past, he said.

"Over the next few weeks, the police are going to be on the outside of these clubs focusing in on peace and safety and quiet in the neighborhood," Schmoke said. "No one is going to be shut down for a technical violation."

Pub Date: 12/13/96

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