Q&A with Shea Flinn 

Memphis City Councilman

A county ordinance that went into effect at the first of the year bans alcohol sales in clubs that allow nudity, so Memphis dancers have been forced to cover up to allow beer sales to continue.

But Memphis city councilman Shea Flinn has proposed the creation of a red light district within the city limits where clubs could continue selling alcohol while allowing some degree of nudity. A city ordinance regulating the clubs inside the city limits would supersede the county regulations.

Next Tuesday, the Memphis City Council will discuss the formation of a committee charged with looking into the need for a red light district, as well as how it would be regulated and where it would be located. Although Flinn's been tossing his red light district idea around for years, this will be the first time the council will address it. — Bianca Phillips

Flyer: Where did this idea come from?

Flinn: I'm a big believer that prohibition doesn't work. Grown folks are going to do what grown folks are going to do. Would it be in everybody's best interest if we banned cigarettes? Yes. But we're not going to do that. People are still going to smoke.

Do you think this idea will get much support on the council?

In the public, I hear support. But it's hard to get support from elected officials because it's seen as being supportive of the strip club industry, which is about as popular as being supportive of poverty.

That's not my intent at all. It's like the first law of thermodynamics. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change or move from place to place in a closed system. That's what we have here. What is happening as these clubs become less profitable or close? I'm not so sure the girls who are dancing in these clubs are going to turn around and become lawyers or doctors. I worry about creating a broader black market in the community.

Where would a red light district be located?

There are a couple of places that fit my criteria, which is away from schools, neighborhoods, and churches. There would have to be a buffer zone so the only people who will be exposed to this are the people who choose to go there.

Wasn't there talk about Presidents Island at one time?

When we were in serious talks about pursuing this strategy there, the Department of Homeland Security objected because of the port. They didn't enunciate what their concerns were, but I respect their concern.

Would the clubs be allowed to have full nudity?

We don't know yet. We have to look and see where this idea has worked and where it hasn't. You have to properly incentivize these clubs to locate here. I don't know the economics of the industry well enough to say how big a differential full nudity is versus toplessness.

So that's the sort of thing a committee would look into?

Right. We're not coming with a plan fully formed. We're coming with a list of questions that a committee of interested parties on both sides of the issue would answer. From there, if we find out what we're doing is working, we'll stick with that. If the committee says we can improve on how we're managing this issue, then we'll come back before the city council and the county commission.

Who would sit on this committee?

It's a nine-member committee, and we want representatives from the county commission, the city council, the Memphis Police Department, the city attorney's office, and the Shelby County District Attorney's office. I know some of the opponents have requested to be on there. I assume people from the industry would too.

How do you convince the clubs to move?

If they would be allowed to sell beer and have a greater degree of nudity, that would be where the audience is going to go. You're basically rigging the marketplace to incentivize them to go there.

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