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Key part of Amsterdam’s Red Light District cleanup program ‘unfeasible’

DutchAmsterdam.nl — One of the cornerstones of a project set up by the city of Amsterdam’s to clean up and re-purpose much of its downtown area — including the Red Light District — is ‘unfeasible’ because the city lacks the money to complete it.

That is the conclusion reached by two independent research firms which earlier this week released scathing reports on the feasibility of Amsterdam’s goal to drastically reduce prostitution and related businesses.

Red Light District, Amsterdam

Oudezijds Achterburgwal, Amsterdam, in the heart of the Red Light District
© Photox | Dreamstime.com

Named after the postal code for the center of Amsterdam, Coalition Project 1012 is meant to spruce up the city’s historic center, and to reduce crime and crime-attracting businesses in the Red Light District.

One of the key parts of the project is for the municipality of Amsterdam to curail the number of brothels by buying up and re-purposing buildings currently used for prostitution businesses. The project calls for prostitution to eventually be limited to two small areas within the district.

The buildings are to be bought by the city and by housing corporations, but research firms Akro Consult and Ecorys say that neither the city nor the corporations have enough money to do so.

The firms conclude that Amsterdam must abandon the repurposing plans set forth in Project 1012.

Project 1012: Cleanup Downtown Amsterdam

Project 1012 envisions a much more diverse Red Light District that will eventually include quality shops, classy restaurants, art galleries and other upscale businesses. Locals refer to it as the gentrification of the neighborhood, but Alderman Lodewijk Asscher, the driving force behind the project, sees it as taking Amsterdam’s historic district away from the ‘riff-raff’ and ‘giving it back to the Amsterdammer.’

Back in 2007 the majority of Amsterdam locals were said to agree with the city’s approach. But there has been criticism as well.

Last September the Netherlands Court of Audit (Algemene Rekenkamer) concluded in a report that it is impossible to determine whether Amsterdam’s efforts to reduce the number of window brothels, coffeeshops and call shops in the Red Light District lead to less crime.

Expensive Renovations and Lower Values

Of the 62 buildings Project 1012 has targeted for repurposing, 30 have thus far been bought. Under temporary arrangements the city turned over some of the former brothels to fashion- and art galleries.

But earlier this month housing corporation De Key said it rued its purchase of ten former brothels. Under the terms of the project it had promised to renovate the buildings, which would then be put back on the market, but now zoned to exclude brothels and related types of businesses.

De Key has run into the same issues other housing corporation taking part in the scheme have encountered as well.

When the buildings were zoned for prostitution they were more valuable — based on the expected amount of income to be generated — than they will be when zoned for residential- or retail purposes. Thus the buildings sold for high prices, making it difficult, if not impossible, to sell them at a profit — — particularly when you take into account that the centuries-old houses need to undergo extensive renovations.

As a result the corporation says it sees itself forced to sell the buildings at a loss.

“We’e not doing this again,” says De Key director Helen van Duin. “It’s a waste of money.”

Planning Blight

Akro Consult has calculated that buying the remaining 35 brothels would cost about 165 million Euro, after which the municipality of Amsterdam would then have to come up with 49 to 63 million Euro to pay for planning blight. [note]

Ecorys puts the price tag for purchashing the properties lower, at between 105 to 116 million Euro, but foresees higher planning blight payments: 72 to 91 million Euro.

The Audit Report issued last September says Amsterdam has earmarked only 36 million Euro for the planning blight related to Project 1012.

Project 1012 ‘Will Continue’

Members of the Council of Amsterdam are divided in their opinions of the reports.

Labour Party leader Frank de Wolf points out that the research was commissioned by brothel owners, and says he therefore takes it with ‘a packet of salt.’

But Councilman Carlien Roodinck (D66) notes that Akro Consult and Ecorys are reputable firms, and want the College van B&W (local executive [2]) to address their reports.

VVD council member Marijn Ornstein also wants the mayor and aldermen to discuss the report.

Mayor Eberhard van der Laan responded strongly, saying that no matter what, Project 1012 will continue.

“Buying up houses of prostitution is just one part of it. If the opportunity arises to acquire properties and give them a different purpose, we will continue to do so.”

Van der Laan and Alderman Lodewijk Asscher will study the reports, but note that they do not consider the whole project to be at risk of failure.

“We have already indicated that making a major expenditure is complicated by the difficult real estate market and the economic crisis,” says the mayor. “We also consider other options.”

Meanwhile members of the Council agree that the cleanup of the Red Light District must continue.

“That’s a no-brainer,” says Roodinck. “Every woman saved from human trafficking, is a big win. But these figures give little cause for optimism.”


  1. Collins English Dictionary defines planning blight as “the harmful effects of uncertainty about likely restrictions on the types and extent of future development in a particular area on the quality of life of its inhabitants and the normal growth of its business and community enterprises”
  2. College van Burgemeester en Wethouders (Abbreviated as College van B&W) is the local executive, composed of the cabinet-appointed mayor (burgemeester) and locally appointed aldermen (wethouders).
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