Adult Zone Shut Out

Proposed baseball stadium would displace adult gay clubs in SE Washington, DC

When it comes to entertainment, Americans look to a variety of sources. Those who live in the Washington area and have an affinity for baseball diamonds can take heart in promises that the Montreal Expos are moving here. But for the area’s gay men who prefer entertainment of a more adult flavor the arrival of Major League Baseball may involve costs above and beyond the hundreds of millions of dollars forecasted.

As part of the deal to bring baseball to Washington, the city has promised to build a new baseball stadium. The favored site will be familiar to anyone who has visited the adult venues near the intersection of Half and O streets, in Southeast. The proposed pitcher’s mound could easily occupy the same few feet of land that currently rest under the socked-feet of otherwise nude male dancers at venues like Secrets or Wet. But at this point, nothing is set in stone.

“It’s absolutely stupid on its face. Our e-mails are running 20-to-1 against building a stadium for billionaires,” insists David Catania (I-At Large), one of the D.C. City Council’s two gay members. “I’m not going to support 100 percent public financing of a stadium. If money is to be spent, let’s get more than temporary, seasonal, low-wage jobs.”

Councilmember Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4) has also been a very vocal critic of the Southeast stadium plan. Catania says Councilmember Kathleen Patterson (D-Ward 3) is also resistant. Nevertheless, Catania is convinced that Mayor Anthony Williams will find the support he needs to secure the deal.

“I think [Williams] would be perfectly happy to make these decisions on his own,” Catania says, adding that the mayor and Major League Baseball “will get the seven votes they need. I see at least seven ironclad votes.”

According to Williams’s office, D.C.’s new baseball team will be up and running at the start of the next season in spring 2005.

“At this point, there really isn’t much to discuss, but wait and see,” says Rick Rindskopf, manager of the Follies Theatre at 24 O St., SE. The adult venue is at the same address as the Glorious Health & Amusements and next door to Club Washington Baths, all of which cater to gay men. All three may face destruction to make way for a stadium, but panicking at this point would be premature, says Rindskopf, adding that he has discussed the proposed stadium with managers and employees of the other adult businesses that could be affected. “The financing for a new stadium has not been approved yet,” says Rindskopf. “It makes it all speculation at this point.”

Speculation may be a second-favorite national pastime. Some suggest that the new team should play at RFK stadium permanently. The current plan has the team playing at a renovated RFK till a new stadium can be built. Or perhaps an exception can be made to allow the adult businesses to relocate?

A request for Councilmember Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) to comment went unanswered by Metro Weekly deadline. The proposed stadium site sits in Ambrose’s ward.

“It’s going to depend on what the city is willing to do,” says Rindskopf. “Unless they’re willing to make a zoning adjustment, it’s impossible for us to relocate. The city in the last 20 years has not allowed any sexually-oriented businesses to open.”

Rindskopf says he’s hopeful that community members who support venues like the Follies will fight for their continued existence in the face of the stadium threat.

“I would expect there will be a major outcry,” Rindskopf guesses. “Whether it would succeed or not, I don’t know.”

The Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance should bolster Rindskopf’s hopes. GLAA, the longest continuously running gay civil rights organization in America, has long advocated for the rights of adults to partake in whatever legal entertainment they choose. The D.C. group has challenged moves by more inhibited members of the Washington community to limit adult entertainment on occasion. With their surprisingly passionate bureaucratic acumen, GLAA is a powerful force in Washington — and never one to walk away from a fight.

“Our main focus is on defining the rights of consumers in our community, who we feel should be able to choose adult entertainment for themselves, regardless of their neighbors, who if they disapprove don’t have to go,” explains Richard Rosendall, GLAA’s vice president for political affairs.

“Since the entire nightclub zone down there appears headed for extinction, there appears to be a need to find some other place for them to go,” says Rosendall, who declined to suggest any alternate sites. “It’s not as if we face a state of anarchy out there, or that the businesses are illicit. They are legal businesses that have been operating, in some cases, for decades.”

Rosendall says that the future of the venues in question will likely be a contentious mix of licensing, zoning and “puritan” impediments.

“There are people who raise a stink over this issue whenever it comes up,” warns Rosendall. “First of all, if [the businesses] can’t transfer their licenses to another location, then we’d be in trouble. The idea is to find a location for the businesses to relocate. There are various zoning rules. It’s a complicated business. We’re just trying to explore what possibilities there are…. That’s the moment when the busybodies start screeching.”

If Rosendall is right, the screeching should start any minute. Until then, like Rindskopf says, it’s still just “wait and see.”

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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