If Mayor Tom Henry and his gateway committee are truly interested in improving our city’s major entry points and gateway areas, their first focus must be on Fort Wayne’s nine erotic dance clubs.
From Interstate 69, Jefferson, Coliseum, Coldwater, Lima and Goshen, all major roads lead to these neon establishments. How did Fort Wayne become the mecca for sexually oriented businesses (SOBs) and those drawn to sexually addictive activity?
There may be a faulty perception among some local leaders that there are no true victims of these locally unregulated businesses. But there are.
Documented crimes at local erotic clubs include strong-arm robberies, fights, use of narcotics, prostitution and shootings. Since January, there have been more than 200 police calls from the city’s topless bars. Many culminated in felony or misdemeanor arrests.
Can the news get worse? Studies done on land values indicate that a SOB located near residences and businesses substantially decreases local land values and stimulates immediate depreciation. A 1984 study of Indianapolis conducted by that city and Indiana University cited serious declines in the value of property near adult SOBs. “No other type of facility, including drug rehab centers, have such a significant negative impact on property values” as did a sexually oriented business, according to a report summary.
And there is more carnage. An 18-year-old Fort Wayne girl has been told that she is pretty and that she can make $1,000 a week. She is now dancing at a Fort Wayne strip club. She can’t legally drink. But she will find herself stripping and groping and grinding among imbibing men who will never remember her name nor know her story. She could experience nightmares, flashbacks, addiction – and come to view this as normal.
Essential services provided by Celebrate Recovery and other support groups operate in Fort Wayne every day of the week. These programs will benefit area husbands and fathers and sons battling a sexual addiction. Local erotic clubs may temporarily self-medicate or relieve anxiety. And they present women who offer up false intimacy. But the reality is that these clubs play with sacred depths, fuel an awful addiction and exploit the prerogative of true intimacy and marriage.
Numerous Indiana cities, including South Bend and Mishawaka, have successfully implemented legislative and zoning measures to curb the ills of the erotic clubs. And many of these municipalities have successfully limited the SOBs’ hours of operation by requiring that they close at midnight.
Zoning for non-incorporated Allen County (where no clubs are located) requires that the SOBs operate only between 10 a.m. and midnight.
In January, if the city had zoned SOBs for a midnight closing, 58 percent of the police calls at local erotic clubs would have been eliminated. Extrapolating these numbers over 10 years, when this idea was first recommended to former Mayor Graham Richard, more than 1,500 calls for police help could have been prevented.
At the state level, our legislators need to look favorably at recent efforts in Ohio and Missouri to curtail the negative effects of SOBs. Notably, last month, a federal appeals court upheld Ohio’s 2009 no-touch law for dancers that also restricted hours of operation. Additionally, higher courts have upheld state efforts to restrict serving alcohol at clubs, expressing concern for the dancers’ risk of abuse when intoxication is involved.
Whoever came up with the misnomer “gentleman’s club” was truly the ultimate spin master. Webster’s dictionary defines “gentleman” as a man of refined manners. It will take a lot of real gentlemen, a courageous City Council, a strong mayor and a large dose of chutzpah to accomplish the mayor’s gateway goal of giving our city “a sense of place and instilling a positive city image.”
Who will provide the leadership necessary to ensure that visitors to Fort Wayne have that great first impression?
Fort Wayne can be a city that is family friendly, but that will mean making it inhospitable to sexually oriented businesses, particularly strip clubs.
Gina Zimmerman, a Fort Wayne real estate agent, served on the professional staff of Mark Souder and several other members of Congress, and in the Reagan White House. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.