Capital Video Springfield: Secondary Effects Extend to Prostitution; Actions the City Can Take

On March 7, we relayed a report from Urban Compass that Capital Video’s Springfield porn shop was inhibiting revitalization in its neighborhood, most notably by discouraging countless grocery store prospects.

Urban Compass followed up yesterday with more details of the secondary effects of this porn shop…

Developer Leon Charkoudian, real estate broker Fred Rowe, and property manager Dianne Little discussed with me their work to lease out an 11,000 square-foot space in the Birnie Building at 11 Pearl Street, at Apremont Triangle in downtown Springfield.

[Leon Charkoudian:] One can argue that the little bit of government assistance that we wanted, if of course we could have cleaned up the stonework, would that have made a difference? Yes, it would have! But as long as Video Expo is there, there still is a problem, you know? You can see in the history, we lost the control of the Harris Green building, because for a short period, in the one year we had the purchase and sale agreement for that property, we worked with the owner at that time, and even with their headquarters in Rhode Island, to move them up on Taylor Street or further up on Worthington.

There was some conversation. They considered it. Naturally it would be one of the most important things we could achieve, if we could move them out of the neighborhood.

It didn’t work out, for various reasons. Among the reasons, they were there before there was an ordinance in the city of Springfield on adult entertainment…

Well, [Capital Video, owners of the store] were very smart people, and I wish the city had realized it. They took the city to court. The court grandfathered them there, because the ordinance came in after they had located there…

[Dianne Little:] However,, or whatever it’s called, the video store–I don’t frequent it often to know what the name of it is–was called up on charges, a number of things, and it was supposed to go before the License Commission [more about this]. We were all ready to go. Then it got postponed; nobody knows why. They had a drug deal–somebody was arrested in the property, in the building, with a drug deal. Don’t you think they’d want to hurry that along? We have a pretty good network in the neighborhood of people who hear what’s going on. “When is that coming up?” You know? “Why aren’t they closed down?” Nobody knows why.

[Fred Rowe:] Outside, we have both male and female prostitutes standing across the street, by our building, and we have a vacant lot that we use for parking. They stand there, and they wait for [customers] to come out, and they solicit them, and they try to take them out behind our building, and do their business. It’s unbelievable.

[Dianne Little:] And this is all two blocks from the police station. I call that blatant. When you’re trying to develop a nice neighborhood, rent a nice building, and you have to walk through a couple hookers to get in the door, or you’re afraid you’re going to be solicited on the way out…

[Fred Rowe:] [Charkoudian] points out, all the time, different areas of Boston that were like this, different areas of New York that were like this, and have had a renaissance and have become beautiful places that people want to go. We do think that can happen.


Suggestions for Springfield

Springfield is far from helpless before the problems posed by Capital Video. The drug use, lewd behavior and prostitution in or around the shop suggest it can and should be shut down as a public nuisance. We elaborate on this strategy here.

A parallel action that should be undertaken by the city is to adopt adult-use zoning with an amortization clause (see this general example). That is, all existing adult uses that do not conform to the new zoning would be required to move or close within some definite period. The town of North Reading, MA has one of these clauses:

E. Amortization.

(1) Any adult use which exists in North Reading at the time of the adoption of this bylaw shall cease and desist all adult use activities within five years (5) of the effective date of this bylaw.

(2) Adult uses which apply for and are granted a special permit under the provisions of this bylaw shall be exempt from Subsection E(1) above.

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