Saturday, May 12, 2007

Eminent Domain, the Washington Nationals, and DC's displaced gay clubs




The Washington Nationals are 10-25 (that's .286 ball, algebra students!), and the subject of a critical Washington Times editorial today of their fielding a minor league team while they try to rebuild. In the meantime, while a new stadium and real estate development on the Anacostia are welcome, residents are displaced (often to PG county) as are businesses, including several gay businesses.

None of the six gay clubs displaced have re-opened, and they seem to face considerable opposition wherever they attempt to go. Lou Chibbaro Jr. has the latest story on p. 6 of the May 11, 2007 Washington Blade. A bill introduced by city councilman Jim Graham would give the establishments one year (a “one strike and you’re out” law) to find locations, probably in an industrial area in NE. There will be questions of security, Metro access, and the like. But the biggest questions concern the objections of current occupants of the area to “anti-family” businesses coming into the neighborhood, even in the politically liberal District.

Remember, that the six clubs were displaced by eminent domain. (See Chibbaro's May 4 story here.) (I’m not sure that this is strictly true of all of the other gay businesses, as the land simply became too valuable “Monopoly style” not to be redeveloped). Government, to advance one commercial interest (which admittedly is beneficial and many citizens want) can disrupt another business and then put it out of business permanently. Because right now there is a real chance that some or all of the businesses may never be able to re-open. Eminent domain can easily become a tool to enforce majoritarian "cultural values" and that seems to have happened here.

The business that I miss is Velvet Nations, which had replaced Tracks. Back in the 90s, Tracks had the wonderful outdoor sand volleyball court as well as disco floors. Velvet would have the foam parties. And the dancing would tend to start early, by 11 PM, and the main hall was usually open at midnight.

The two dances clubs in the Dupont Circle area seem to be Apex and Cobalt. Apex attracts a crowd Friday night, and Cobalt on Saturday, although Cobalt has tried free admission on Friday. But the crowds that would have gone to Velvet do not seem to come, Typically, dancing does not get active until midnight or later. Apex has also experimented with drag shows on Saturday (and has long had a successful Karaoke) on Friday. It seems like the customers really do want a large dance club back, but given the real estate and zoning and cultural issues, that seems like a long hall, although the Nations management promised it would try to reopen.

Chibbaro has an article that reports that most clubs have lost business because of the smoking ban. Some clubs did not respond (and that probably means a loss). Yet, most customers and bartenders report anecdotally that they like the smoke-free environment. Dancing may become more intimate when no one holds a cigarette. If one stays late enough, many clubs eventually still seem packed. But maybe for not enough hours.

Chibbaro's story on May 11 is here.

On May 26, the DC Examiner, p 5 (story by Courtney Mabeus) reported that DC Council Harry Thomas wants to keep such clubs 1200 feet apart; there is another provision in the bill to protect clubs affected by eminent domain and unprotect any other such clubs.

Would it help us feel better if the Nationals could become a winning team? Right now, they may underperform the 2003 Detroit Tigers or 1962 New York Mets.

Update: 5/23/2007

Right after posting this, the Nats had a 7-3 homestand at RFK. (They actually won their first game in Cincinnati in three years last night.) But remember the "old" Senators with those 18 game losing streaks (like all the games on a "western trip" in 1959, streak from July 19 to Aug 5, look here at baseball-statistics.com); or similarly the last 13 games of 1958, and the "new" Senators of 1961-1971? Remember Bob Short?

On Tuesday May 22 The Washington Times had an editorial (p A16) blasting the idea of a "red light district" in NE Washington not too far from the entry portal of New York Avenue / US 50 (where all the speed cameras are). The Washington Times building itself is in that area, near the Arboretum, and the Amtrak main line. The editorial pointed out that this area is often many visitors' first impression of the Nation's Capital (already not a good impression). Then it adds "Mr. Graham's point seems to be that gays must have their porn, and the gripers and complainers should shut up." Not in my neighborhood? Please!

The Washington Times followed with another aggressive editorial on Friday, June 1, in which it suggested that "red light" (or maybe "Red Road", as in the recent film) businesses should be spread out in every neighborhood, which of course most neighborhoods would oppose.

Yolanda Woodlee has a major story on the issue, June 5m 2007, page, B1, "NE Residents Fear that Bill Would Create a 'Red-Light' Zone," link here. The main areas are called Ivy City and Trinidad. Much of the land is along New York Avenue, with scattered pockets in other northern parts of the District. One point that seems not completely clear if the concern is over nudity on the property, or if gay disco clubs (like Velvet Nations) in general (those without allowing nudity) present an issue for many residents. I think it is really the latter. The Council is set to vote on Graham and Thomas today (June 5), and I'll report on it here.

Jim McElhatton has a story "Clubs' Landlord Acquires NE Sites" in The Washington Times, p. A1, here.

Here is a typical blog entry ("Dean's") on the lost Velvet Nations.

Picture: Another homeowner on 22nd St in Washington (near GWU) who resisted pressure from developers.
Additional pictures: New Nats' stadium on the Anacostia River under construction; the area where the Velvet Nations Club, and Edge and Wet were has been razed for condominiums and office complexes; nearby slums were raised, with residents probably headed for Prince Georges County. That is the pattern with DC gentrification.

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