Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson today dropped a controversial proposal to impose a 10 p.m. curfew on businesses in Baltimore’s adult entertainment area, saying they had agreed to a compromise.
Posting on social media in the morning, Ferguson said he was amending the bill he introduced after “a representative majority of clubs on ‘The Block’” had agreed to help pay for police patrols and to share video footage with police.
But later in the day, many business owners protested that Ferguson never reached out to them — and said they had never agreed to the deal.
“I’ve been in touch with 11 of 13 of us, and they said they never heard from him,” said John Sachs, an owner of Chez Joey.
Club owners representing Club Pussycat, Circus Bar, Jewell Box, Red Room, Club Harem and Club Indulge also said they never signed off on the agreement.
Ferguson said he had an in-person meeting on February 6 with “with five or six establishment owners operators.”
“Last night, the authorized representatives” for a majority of the establishments signed off on the amendment he described in his statement, he said.
Attorney Frank Boston III, representing AMW Investments Inc., which owns the Gayety Theater building where the Hustler Club and two other clubs are housed, said he had agreed to the deal on behalf of his clients.
Boston said an effort was made to contact all the club owners, “but we knew we were never going to get them all.”
Two other attorneys representing Ferguson in the negotiations could not be reached tonight.
Last month, Ferguson introduced an “emergency bill” cracking down on The Block, saying an early closing time was needed because late night crime and violence in the area was overtaxing city police.
The proposed measure drew blowback from club owners and others who disputed – some even mocking – the crime statistics that Ferguson provided.
Performers and club owners held demonstrations in the 400 block of East Baltimore Street, the center of the downtown adult entertainment zone, saying the measure would force them to shut their doors.
Sachs and others speculated that Ferguson and his legislative co-sponsors were acting in the interests of developers looking to acquire real estate in the area.
“I think [Ferguson] stepped on a landmine with this thing, and now he’s just doing damage control,” Sachs, president of the East Baltimore Street Association, said yesterday.
Paying Extra for Police
Signing onto the statement about the compromise yesterday were Ferguson’s fellow 46th District lawmakers – delegates Luke Clippinger, Robbyn Lewis and Brooke Lierman. City Councilman Eric Costello’s name was also included.
The new measures listed were:
• Consistent use of cameras and the sharing of footage.
• Dedicated deployment of police at peak hours paid for by the businesses.
• Incorporation of security plans approved by the Board of Liquor License Commissioners in consultation with the Baltimore Police Department.
Sachs said he has no problem formalizing s security plan with the Liquor Board and BPD. He said he and other owners already provide the video footage to police with CitiWatch cameras outside their clubs.
But Sachs and others objected strongly to the idea of paying the city extra for police patrols.
“Why would we say, ‘You’re going to get money from us to pay overtime to police officers to walk up and down the streets?’ Isn’t that what we pay our tax dollars for already?” he complained.
Sachs pointed to the charges The Block already pays as a special benefits district on top of an admissions and amusements tax of 2% per month on sales, along with the annual fees for adult entertainment and liquor licenses.
Sachs said he’s not sure what the Annapolis lawmakers are specifically proposing.
Boston said that details are still under discussion.
He said he couldn’t put a price tag on the extra patrol plan, but that it could entail two outdoor officers patrolling the area from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
“Spread out over all the owners, that wouldn’t be so bad,” he said.
In his online statement, Ferguson said that forging an agreement between the parties was the point of the now-tabled bills.
“The legislative process is built on compromise, and sometimes an imperfect tool is necessary to get all relevant parties around a shared table,” he wrote.
Ferguson said the bill was intended “to ensure an equitable distribution of police resources across the Central District, not to put the businesses on ‘The Block’ out of business.”