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Baltimore Blues

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If you live in Baltimore, you may have to face down some city planners soon. The so-called West Side Initiative will use more than $100 million in state and local funds to put upscale residential developments and mixed-use retail in West Baltimore, a neighborhood adjacent to the famed Inner Harbor.

While West Baltimore has always supported a number of thriving businesses—many of them owned by minority families—the area apparently doesn't project the image coveted by Mayor Martin O'Malley and the city establishment. Among the casualties of the West Side Initiative are over two dozen mom-and-pop stores deemed insufficiently upscale.

In effect, residents are being asked to suspend their disbelief. For one thing, they're supposed to forget that a similar government initiative failed to do anything for the same neighborhood in 1980. And they're not supposed to ask whether the government should be subsidizing homes for middle- and upper-class families, who can presumably find places to live easily enough on their own.

The West Side Initiative showcases how complex redevelopment plans can end up sponsoring all sorts of insanity. In order to kick the existing businesses out of the neighborhood, the city agreed to buy them out and relocate them. One of the enterprises belonged to a local entrepreneur named Kenneth Jackson, whose El Dorado Lounge had been a well-known area strip club for more than 25 years. The Baltimore Sun reports that in helping relocate the establishment, the city paid Jackson $450,000 for his property, twice what he paid for it just four years earlier. Moreover, in its original version the city's relocation plan would have made the city the strip club's new landlord, leasing it space in a large city building at a rock-bottom price—with an option to buy, no less.

That arrangement fell through, but not before the local press had its fun with the gaffe. Jackson must now find a new venue on his own if he wants to keep the El Dorado open.