About 19 months after locking horns over the severity of problems in the South Side’s entertainment district, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Councilman Bruce Kraus on Monday announced that they’ll work together on a study intended to better manage bars and nightclubs across the city.
California-based Responsible Hospitality Institute will receive $100,000 for the nine-month study. Institute president Jim Peters will examine nightlife Downtown, in Lawrenceville and on the South Side and make recommendations for managing “hospitality zones” citywide.
The study’s launch was a welcome development for South Side residents, who blame nightclubs and their 20-something patrons for violent crime, public intoxication, litter, public urination, illegal parking, traffic congestion and other problems.
“This is a step in the right direction and could even be a turning point,” said Tom Kolano, public safety chairman for South Side Community Council and a nominee to the Citizen Police Review Board.
Many parties will be involved in the study, officials said, citing neighborhood groups, universities, transportation companies, business owners, residents and city departments that provide services ranging from planning to public safety. A planning group held its first meeting immediately following a news conference announcing the study.
“I would love to be part of the process,” Bubba Snider, an owner of Mullen’s on Carson, said. “I think the most important thing is that all the groups get together.”
He said some problems in the entertainment district, such as a lack of public restrooms when bars and nightclubs close at 2 a.m., are outside the control of individual establishments.
Among other goals, the study will make recommendations for hospitality-related education initiatives, public safety, code enforcement and marketing. Mr. Kraus previously proposed a blunt billboard campaign reminding visitors to mind their manners.
Mr. Peters, who has worked with more than 50 U.S. and Canadian cities since 2003, said the study may goad nightclubs, the city and other parties into modifying their behavior. For example, he said, bars could compete to offer the best entertainment instead of the cheapest drinks, while the city could arrange better taxi service and appoint a nighttime economy coordinator to ride herd on study recommendations.
On Monday and in previous interviews, Mr. Peters said small details can make a big difference. For example, nightclubs can help to prevent underage drinking by ensuring there’s adequate lighting in areas where driver’s licenses are checked. He also said a nightclub district should market itself to a diverse clientele.
He said the goal of the nighttime economy should be “sociability,” not revelry. Mr. Kolano called Mr. Peters the right person for the job.
“He is a third party. He has a lot of experience in this kind of integration in other cities,” Mr. Kolano said. Because of that experience, he added, it will be difficult for anyone to dispute Mr. Peters’ recommendations.
Mr. Kraus long has wanted such a study. He’s known for walking the streets Saturday and Sunday mornings, snapping photos of litter and other debris from the previous night’s activities. He’s also known for recapping the South Side’s tumultuous weekends at Tuesday and Wednesday council meetings, while pleading for help.
After three people were shot outside an East Carson Street tavern in September 2010, Mr. Kraus accused the mayor of having a “deliberate sense of indifference” to the South Side’s problems.
“To call what’s going on in the South Side a crisis is simply irresponsible,” mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven said at the time, suggesting “the real crisis” was Mr. Kraus’ need for a campaign issue.
On Monday, Mr. Kraus thanked the mayor for supporting the study, and Mr. Ravenstahl, who faces his own re-election bid next year, lauded Mr. Kraus’ passion on the issue.
“We have may disagreed about the severity of [the situation] … but I think we stand here today united,” the mayor said, pledging the cooperation of city departments, something else Mr. Kraus sought in the past.
Mr. Kraus budgeted $100,000 for the study last year. However, it went undone as the mayor and council squabbled over the amount of money available for capital projects.
Mr. Ravenstahl stressed that the study will benefit various part of the city, including Downtown, which has seen a proliferation of restaurants in Market Square over the past two years.
Some Lawrenceville residents fear that their up-and-coming neighborhood will be the next South Side. Like the South Side, Lawrenceville has a long business corridor, a parking crunch and adjoining commercial and residential districts.
“At the rear of these businesses, you have someone’s front porch,” Lauren Byrne, executive director of Lawrenceville United, said.
She said neighborhood leaders have tried to get ahead of the growing hospitality industry by establishing a responsible hospitality committee, monitoring commercial development and lobbying to have conditions written into new establishments’ licensing agreements with the state Liquor Control Board. She said those conditions could include security cameras, a no-loitering rule and special training for bartenders and servers.