Lynch: Green Light For a Red-Light Zone
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Lynch: Green Light For a Red-Light Zone

Green Light For a Red-Light Zone

The Washington Post
Sunday, January 7, 2001; Page B08

When I first started working in downtown Washington more than 20 years ago, I was struck by two in-your-face realities: the tragic number of homeless persons living near the White House and other federal buildings, and the equally tragic atmosphere created by so-called adult entertainment businesses. The latter lined 14th Street NW in the Franklin Square neighborhood, as well the 9th Street NW area, creating a stream of trolling cars and gawkers and helping to fuel street prostitution.

In the 20 years since, homelessness has remained a tragic problem here, but the District has managed to rein in adult entertainment and thus revitalize its downtown. Inexplicably, however, the D.C. Council decided last month to undermine that success by giving the green light to the creation of a new red-light district downtown.

Despite the opposition of members Harold Brazil, Vincent Orange and Kevin Chavous, the council approved the granting of liquor licenses for all-nude strip clubs downtown. While residents within 1,200 feet of the clubs will have the ability to weigh in on the granting of such licenses, the legal and procedural process of challenging new liquor licenses is both arduous and costly.

It's no secret why strip clubs are interested in downtown Washington -- tourists, more than 20 million a year. The District has poured millions into a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment arena downtown -- the MCI Center. So too, the taxpayers are providing hundreds of millions for a huge convention center to attract out-of-town businessmen. With the recent action of the D.C. Council, strip club operators out of New York City, Atlanta and elsewhere should be able to be up and running in plenty of time for the opening of the Convention Center in the spring of 2003.

Yet it was just these types of operations that for years impeded the rebirth of our downtown. Through the Herculean efforts of the late Art Schultz and the Franklin Square Association, adult nightclubs were replaced by office buildings, restaurants and nonprofit associations. The revitalization of Franklin Square has meant tens of millions in new property tax revenues for D.C. coffers, as well as hundreds of jobs for the city.

Yet if new strip clubs open downtown, other businesses, including stores and restaurants, will be reluctant to locate next to or near such establishments. Companies, many of which operate 18 hours to 24 hours a day now, do not want employees to have to walk by such venues when coming to and from work. Retail and restaurant outlets, which cater to a broad section of the market, also do not want customers to have to pass by such "adult entertainment" venues. Once adult establishments take hold of a block, only similar types of establishments are seen as economically viable or appropriate.

The District already has at least 19 such licensed establishments, and in almost no instance have they generated retail activity or revitalization for the neighborhoods in which they are located; in many instances, these clubs are in neighborhoods in need of significant commercial and retail rejuvenation.

It is not too late to keep the downtown revitalization from going off the track. The mayor, the financial control board and Congress can review the council's action and counter this reckless decision that could cost the District dearly.

-- Terrance Lynch

is executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations.

2001 The Washington Post Company

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