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Mailbag: No More Strip Clubs on Bourbon

Bourbon Street and strip clubs have become synonymous, but many residents do not view that condition as a plus. The City Council is set to consider the state of affairs at the end of the month. Reader William Khan wrote to NoDef to argue why the Quarter does not need any more strip clubs.


On Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016, the New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) is going to hold a public hearing on strip clubs in the French Quarter. Pending the CPC study and proposed reforms, the New Orleans City Council enacted a one-year temporary moratorium on strip clubs after Louisiana State Police and state authorities documented illegal drug sales, prostitution, and lewd conduct at several strip clubs and a stripper working at one of the Bourbon Street venues was brutally murdered by her pimp.


After the one-year moratorium on new strip clubs expires, what’s next for the French Quarter and the image of New Orleans? The French Quarter already has the nation’s highest concentration of strip clubs on a per capita basis and per square mile. According to an urban research study, Portland, OR is the city with the highest number of strip clubs per capita in the country with nearly 9 strip clubs per 100,000 people. With approximately 4,000 residents, roughly 20 strip clubs, and an area of only 0.66 square miles, the French Quarter has 56 times more strip clubs per capita than Portland (which is 220x larger in land area). The concentration of strip clubs in the Vieux Carre on a per capita basis sadly rises whenever a resident of the French Quarter permanently leaves because he or she cannot raise a family and enjoy a normal life in an increasingly unbalanced neighborhood.



Should new strip clubs or adult entertainment venues be allowed to proliferate in the Vieux Carre after the moratorium ends? In contrast, new hotels, t-shirt shops, and food carts (other than Lucky Dog) are prohibited from ever opening in the French Quarter. Why has city hall ignored or tolerated the harmful impacts of strip clubs in New Orleans’ oldest neighborhood for decades?


In 1977, Mayor Moon Landrieu established the Bourbon Street Task Force with a blue-ribbon panel to study the strip and suggest improvements. The panel visited the adult-entertainment districts of Boston’s “Combat Zone,” New York City’s Times Square, and Atlanta’s red-light areas. Modeled on other cities but tailored to New Orleans’ unique flavor, the Vieux Carre Entertainment District (otherwise known as Bourbon Street from Iberville to St. Ann) was created shortly thereafter. At the time, Bourbon Street’s adult-entertainment venues were not dominated by the out-of-town owned and corporate chains of strip clubs that currently line the strip.


From its outset, the Vieux Carre Entertainment District offered vaudeville, burlesque shows, and theatrical glamour. The 1977 Bourbon Street Task Force’s permissive rules, which were intended to encourage the street’s creativity and individuality, have been abused, leading to the present-day marketing of lap dances and private champagne rooms. Since 1977, the cities that the task force considered as benchmarks for New Orleans have reformed their respective adult-entertainment districts. Boston’s Combat Zone was transformed by civic activists into a family-friendly and mixed-use district. New York City's clampdown on sexually-oriented businesses in the 1990’s has been widely praised for launching the city’s revival, making it a more decent place to live and to visit. Atlanta’s strip clubs today are not allowed to sell alcohol.


New Orleans should update and modernize its 40-year old regulations for strip clubs in the French Quarter. The negative effects of strip clubs on quality of life are clear. In 2012, City Councilmember Kristin Palmer specifically pointed to the number of strip clubs in the French Quarter as a justification for tightening the curfew for minors in our city’s oldest neighborhood. On the 300 and 400 blocks of Bourbon Street, there are at least seven strip clubs flanking the Royal Sonesta Hotel, and reportedly at least one convention rejected New Orleans as a destination because strippers were visible from the sidewalk.


Mayor Mitch Landrieu has set a goal of attracting 13 million visitors annually to New Orleans by 2018. How can New Orleans achieve such a goal without promoting a cleaner and more balanced brand that appeals to more families, children, and ordinary people? It's time for some common-sense restrictions on how close new strip clubs could open near existing ones in the French Quarter.


The need for a buffer from strip clubs is not a foreign concept under current New Orleans zoning rules. Outside of the French Quarter, the New Orleans Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance prohibits strip clubs and nude cabarets from opening within 1,000 feet of residences, churches, schools, and parks. The exposé of prostitution, drug-related crimes, and lewd/improper acts at French Quarter strip clubs led to a temporary moratorium, but city hall should strive for more substantial reforms. To revamp the worsening environment of the French Quarter and to bolster the neighborhood’s livability, the city should permanently limit how close future strip clubs can open near current ones.


William Khan

French Quarter resident and Bourbon Street merchant


The text above is a letter to the editor and expresses only the opinion of the authors, not NOLA Defender or NOLA Defender's Editorial Board.

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