Is The Block on the way out?


There was a time when The Block was such a famous institution that congressmen trekked all the way from Washington for a night out to see the likes of Blaze Starr. It was an R&R; spot for sailors. Bachelor parties were held there. And whenever the Orioles won the pennant, The Block's bars kept jumping for nights.

The Block today is nothing by comparison. Congressmen no longer stray there. The shift to containerized maritime cargo has shortened port calls, cut crew sizes and reduced shore time for boozy relaxation. And while an occasional bachelor party may still find its way to a strip-tease joint in the 400 block of East Baltimore Street, The Block long ago lost its reputation as the gathering place for celebrating Baltimoreans.

Indeed, The Block as we have known it will be no more after July 1995, if a bill introduced by Councilman Wilbur Cunningham is passed. Adult entertainment establishments would be outlawed altogether from the central business district. And while they could be allowed as conditional uses in industrial districts, they would have to scatter and could not exist within "1,000 feet from a residence district, church, hospital, school, library, park, playground or day nursery."

If the City Council approves this bill, The Block would go the way adult entertainment zones have gone in places such as Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit and Dallas. Those cities have built an important caseload of precedents that has established the municipalities' right to phase out adult entertainment uses and restrict their relocation. Mr. Cunningham's bill is based on these precedents.

The Block is ripe for redevelopment. It is around the corner from City Hall, the financial district and the Inner Harbor. It has access to an interstate highway. In another two years, it will be a stop on a Metro line that stretches from the Johns Hopkins Hospital to Owings Mills. If the sleaze can be driven away, some developers theorize, go-go bars could be turned into restaurants, porno shops into boutiques. Dentists could have affordable offices near the business districts; so could other professionals. Some vacant lots could even be turned into apartments, developers say.

In the next few weeks, the Cunningham bill will be subjected to a number of hearings. We see it as a starting point in a process that could strengthen the many positive changes that have occurred in Baltimore's downtown during the past decade.

The Block is a colorful part of Baltimore's history. As time has passed it by, what remains has become unsavory. The city and The Block need to move on.

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