Intent on preventing crime and ensuring public safety, a Gainesville ordinance has made it nearly impossible for adult entertainment businesses to open in the city.
Concerns of a sexually oriented business, such as adult entertainment clubs and stores, downtown led commissioners to pass the ordinance in the ’90s, said Gary Edinger, a Gainesville attorney who represents Florida adult entertainment businesses.
At about the same time, the owners of Cafe Risque in Micanopy opened a second location in downtown Gainesville called Cafe Expresso, a club similar to Cafe Risque, across from the Alachua County administration building.
But in 1994, commissioners enacted strict regulations on where adult businesses could exist.
Citing higher crime rates in other cities as the reason for the restrictions, the ordinance requires adult businesses to be at least 1,000 feet from “any other sexually oriented business, place of religious assembly, public school, private school, public park, youth association or residential area,” according to the ordinance.
Overall, crime in Gainesville has decreased gradually, according to crime reports from 2005 to 2016, even as census data reports an increasing population. As of press time, Gainesville Police reported only one crime at an X-Mart Adult Supercenter since 2011. Since October 2016, three crimes were reported by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office in the block adjacent to the adult store, according to CrimeReports.com.
It’s a decision that has kept the city free of adult businesses, the nearest being X-Mart just outside city limits on Southwest 13th Street, Edinger said, primarily because there are no available sites for them under zoning.
Though Edinger said it’s been about 10 years since he checked if any sites are available, as communities develop, the number of available sites tends to go down, not up.
“The chance of sites having opened up in Gainesville is exceptionally unlikely,” Edinger said.
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Gainesville’s ordinance isn’t uncommon.
In fact, nearly every city or county in the country has similar zoning laws regulating adult businesses.
For Cafe Risque, Edinger — who also serves as a trustee in the corporation but is not active in management — said the business was grandfathered into a 2004 revision of the Alachua County codes, exempting it from regulation under the county’s current adult business codes.
But it’s not an issue the county deals with often, said Mark Sexton, the communications and legislative affairs director of Alachua County. The last time the issue came up, he said, was when Cafe Risque was opening an adult video store outside of Waldo in 2007. However, the store was allowed to open, though it closed a short time later, he said.
He said since the county commissioners saw a need for the ordinance and passed it, there hasn’t been a movement to repeal or change it.
“We haven’t had businesses come to commission meetings or try to lobby commissioners to change or alter this ordinance — ordinances tend to stay in place until somebody does that,” Sexton said.
Edinger said these ordinances are usually based on belief, not scientific fact.
He said there’s no evidence of adult businesses in the U.S. contributing to higher crime near them compared to similar non-adult nightlife business.
“The crime rate around adult entertainment establishments is no higher than any other sort of facility — comparable facility — and is usually significantly lower,” he said.
One of the reasons, Edinger said, is that most adult entertainment businesses self-police more vigorously because they have to, knowing that they’re under more scrutiny from officials. And the scrutiny does not end once cases reach the courtroom.
Despite bringing forth peer-reviewed, scientific case studies in past lawsuits in Florida, Edinger said courts are more likely to listen to anecdotal evidence than fact.
“When we challenge on these adverse secondary effects, we always, always lose,” Edinger said.
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In light of the ordinance, some stores are trying to cater to customers while avoiding the label of a sexually explicit store.
These businesses, called percentage stores, sell adult products or services, but the percentage of floor space and total store sales are below the 30-percent threshold for regulation under the ordinance, Edinger said.
X-Mart, an adult business regulated by the county, isn’t phased by the ordinances, said Sam, the manager of the south Gainesville store. He declined to give his last name.
“We’re here for the people from all walks of life,” Sam said. “People come if they want. It makes it an adventure.”