Another misfire on west-side project

El Dorado: City doesn't need a tenant with such a shady reputation even if it's good for development.

March 16, 2001

YOU CAN visit municipally sanctioned whorehouses in lots of Third World cities. And in some German burgs, the local governments even own high-rises that house courtesans who will indulge your every desire for a few hundred bucks.

So maybe Baltimore officials are on to something with their idea to own the El Dorado strip club's building.

The bar could be linked on the city's municipal Web site (www.baltimorecity.gov) under "city services." And the rent the city collects from its ill-reputed tenant could be sent to schools or public libraries or -- more appropriately -- to public health clinics.

Or maybe not.

This is by far the worst idea we've heard from Mayor Martin O'Malley's 16-month-old administration.

It's proof that efforts to get the west-side development moving have reached the point of ridiculous desperation.

The city of Baltimore as pimp for the El Dorado's morally challenged merchandise? We don't think so.

For those who haven't kept pace with the El Dorado saga, here's a refresher: The club has operated for years on the west-side of downtown.

Busted occasionally for letting patrons fondle or copulate with its dancers for money, the bar was never really seen as a problem until developers started talking about a west-side revival. (You can't, after all, locate a Home Depot or an Old Navy across the street from a virtual brothel, at least not in this country.)

Now that the El Dorado has to move, along with a string of other west-side businesses, the city has become desperate to placate the well-connected owners, so as not to jeopardize the entire redevelopment project. The administration seems willing to stoop to any bizarre accommodation to get the shop owners out of the way.

Last week, we panned the city for its extensive giveaway that paid shop owners obscene relocation fees and for its proposal to hand the El Dorado's owners more than double what they paid four years ago.

But the latest deal, which would entail moving the El Dorado to a city-owned building and leasing the space to the club's owners, is worse. It would effectively put the city in the smut business.

It's time to approach this problem with a little more reason, we think. Time to abandon the "redevelopment at any fiscal or moral cost" model and adopt a sensible round of negotiations for these properties.

Westside businesses deserve fair compensation for their inconvenience. And they may require some extra conciliation on the city's part.

That's just part of the development game.

But compromising the city's treasury or its good name can't be on the table any longer.

Such moves will make Baltimore more of a laughing-stock, instead of the world-class city it aspires to be.

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