Tim Silbaugh
There is an inherent beauty in squalor--the down-market loveliness of strip clubs, dive bars, prostitution, public drunkards, and ranting lunatics. The beauty of all things naughty, unseemly, and dirty.

Such beauty exists in every society, and always will. There is a reason prostitution is the world's oldest profession. It's the same reason why Prohibition and the War on Drugs both failed. It's why strip clubs are a part of all urban landscapes. People will always seek out new and sleazy sensations; it's an impulse that can't be legislated away. Sin is dangerous, of course, but danger reminds us that we are alive.

But Seattle, like most American cities, tries to sweep squalor from public view. We don't like to admit that the urge for sleaze exists in our hearts. Not here. Not in our fair city. And while this kind of denial may keep the city's meeker residents happy, the end result of our attempts to deny our baser urges is scattered squalor. Here in Seattle, prostitution thrives on Highway 99, drugs are readily available on Second Avenue and Pike Street, and strip clubs, save for Déjà Vu Showgirls and the Lusty Lady downtown, reside in Lake City and just outside of town. The result: Passing through Seattle, you encounter squalor again and again.

It doesn't have to be this way. What if we allowed a center of sin in our city where the dirty elements, the unwanted elements, could safely thrive? What if we created our own red-light district?

With Seattle's economy currently in the toilet, now is a time for bold thinking, new ideas, and fresh new "revenue enhancements," as they say. It is, in other words, the perfect time for our city officials--and our city as a whole--to take this leap. And as scary of an idea as a Seattle red-light district may seem, it's not like the concept is an unproven one--Hamburg, Amsterdam, and many other cities have red-light districts that are not only the heart of all sleaze in those cities, but tourist attractions as well. Plus, there's an added benefit: By inviting all of Seattle's sleazy businesses and illegal trades into one neighborhood, sin, squalor, and crime would be drained from other neighborhoods. This, in turn, would make sin in Seattle easier to police, not to mention regulate and, yes, tax; strip clubs, porn shops, brothels, jack shacks--each offers much taxation opportunity, revenues our state, and our city, sorely need.

But where to locate our red-light district? There is already a perfect place for such a pot of sin within our city limits. A place already earmarked by our city officials for transformation. That place: South Lake Union.

Hear me out: While Mayor Nickels and billionaire Paul Allen have been doing their own pimping of South Lake Union as a promising destination for biotech companies, I offer a real solution to that vast wasteland north of downtown and south of the lake. Why try to entice the biotech industry at great taxpayer expense when there is already a successful industry already established in our city? An industry that, free from onerous regulations and the law, would gladly build its own infrastructure, would rebuild and expand and establish South Lake Union as a viable part of the city--without gouging the taxpayers?

And we already have the perfect name for it: the Mercer Mess.

Still, this plan of mine doesn't mean that Mayor Nickels' grand dreams for the area would need to be completely tossed aside. Don't fret, Mr. Mayor, you can still have your cute little trolley line--after all, it would be a perfect addition to a dirty South Lake Union. Indeed, a line running from the hotels in downtown straight to the Mercer Mess would help boost coffers on both sides; again, if Amsterdam and Hamburg are any indication, red-light districts are boons for tourism. The trolley would allow the more timid tourists to have a quick peek at Seattle's sinners without having to rub shoulders with them. And, heck, since strip clubs, jack shacks, dive bars, and drug dealers are all "street-level retail operations," as the new urbanists might put it, we could have a red-light district in South Lake Union and biotech too--red-light businesses on the ground floor, biotech on the upper floors. Seattle could incubate new STDs downstairs and cure them upstairs.

An influx of tourism dollars. A healthy, growing economy. Cleaned-up neighborhoods. An example to other cash-strapped, stripper-plagued cities. Steps toward world-class-city status. Reelection. Are you listening, Mayor Nickels? All you have to do is follow this easy plan:

Toss out the moratorium on the opening of new strip clubs. It's unfair, ridiculous, anti-urban, and anti-American. And for God's sake, would you treat us citizens like adults and allow drinking in strip clubs?

Legalize prostitution within the South Lake Union area. No need to legalize it everywhere in Seattle, just make it legal (and safe) from the lake to Denny Way, from Eastlake Avenue East to Aurora Avenue North. And by prostitution, I don't mean streetwalkers--they can still be criminalized outside of the district--but legal, regulated, and safe brothels. Need guidance? See Amsterdam, or Nevada for that matter.

Allow the opening of small casinos in the area as well. Why should Native Americans get all our city's squandered dollars?

Keep drugs and drug dealing illegal in the city, but tolerate it within the district as long as it's done subtly--more subtle, of course, than the dealing already going on right now on Second Avenue.

Inform the cops that they should crack down hard on sinful activities outside of the district, but relax inside the area. Keeping the peace--and therefore allowing the money to flow--is the whole idea of a red-light district, and by continuing to make arrests outside of the area, all of Seattle's other neighborhoods will see an improvement. The result: Everyone's neighborhood is safer, and the naughty people of Seattle--be they naughty locals, or naughty tourists--can still have their fun.

And finally, promote the hell out of the district (you don't have to use the name "Mercer Mess," though I think it has a certain charm) once it has been established. Advertise around the state, and in other cities as well. Encourage commercial arrangements between businesses in the district and the hotels/restaurants/malls downtown. Then sit back and count the money.


The Mercer Mess. Home to Seattle's sinners. Think about it, Mayor Nickels. Seattle needs a red-light district--even Vancouver, BC, has a version, for Christ's sake!--and South Lake Union is the perfect spot. Show a little vision beyond biotech pipedreams and filling potholes, Greg. Start taking concrete steps to make this happen. Hell, the fleet already comes in to Seattle once a year--do it for the brave boys in uniform if for no other reason.