Des Moines, WA: Adult Uses Cause Business Failures, Scare People Away

“Over the years, there has been a great deal of objection by Des Moines area residents to adult uses and the showing of adult movies in the community. The City has hundreds of letters and petition signatures on file objecting to these uses dated from 1974 to the present. These letters and petitions represent over 600 households, and all but two are opposed to adult businesses. Many of these express that they and the people they know or influence will not shop adjacent businesses because the theater creates the image of an adult use zone. Additionally, in the Community Opinion Survey conducted in March, 1978, the adult theater was among the most frequent features of Des Moines that elicited negative responses ( Appendix B ). The appearance (deterioration) of business establishments was the Number 1 negative comment regarding business in Des Moines. The evidence gathered since the survey clearly shows a correlation between deterioration of business neighborhoods and the presence of adult uses….

“Des Moines residents have time and time again expressed their concerns regarding the negative impact of the adult theater on adjacent commercial businesses on and nearby residential properties and on the City in general…. This public perception has lead to numerous business failures in the commercial areas near the Des Moines Theater. This is indicated by new business licences being issued. Business turnovers around the theater is approximately four times the average in other comparable areas of downtown…. A business that reasonably bears on a citizen’s security or perception of security is a legitimate impact.

“Public testimony, staff studies and independent consultant studies all confirm the following findings:

  1. The presence of the adult theater deters many people from shopping in the immediate area in particular and in downtown Des Moines in general resulting in serious negative economic impact.
  2. Overwhelming public testimony and planning studies conclude that the downtown business area is severely deteriorated due, in part, to the adult movie theater.
  3. The benefits of community investment in revitalization and future revitalization efforts may be nullified by the continued presence of the adult theater.

“The negative effect of adult businesses is also evidenced in other states and communities by their enormous effort and expense to rid themselves of or at least control adult businesses, including adult movie theaters….

“…Turnover of tenants and decline of real estate values occur in uses in close proximity to adult uses. The perception of the public is that adult uses are incompatible with residential, religious, educational and recreational uses where minors may meet collectively…. City staff has acquired substantial planning information on the impact of adult businesses on adjacent ‘family-oriented’ business activities. These studies suggest a general incompatibility of the two, especially in a pedestrian-oriented setting.”

Des Moines, Adult Use Study, August 1984 (PDF)

Des Moines, WA is a waterfront community on Puget Sound with a current population of 29,000 (similar in size to Northampton).

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