Building Alliances for a Nighttime Economy Benefits Everyone

"How can we help you?” used to be a standard greeting of the hotel concierge. Now it adorns the T-shirts of safety staff at The London Tap House in London, Ontario. According to Joey Gibbons, president of Gibbons Hospitality, which owns Tap House and other nightlife venues throughout Canada: “Our safety staff members are not brawny types meant to intervene with fights. They are here to promote safety and resolve conflicts through communication.” But if an altercation occurs, all staff members meet that same night to review and plan better prevention strategies.

This process of “concierge management” blends well into cities that practice “concierge policing and government” to provide a business-friendly approach to nightlife in mixed-use downtown areas, where entertainment venues are located in close proximity to residential housing. Such efforts are taking shape in various cities, and are transforming the way nightlife venues and operators are viewed by the community.

In Chicago, William McFall, operations director for Ala Carte Entertainment, which has more than two dozen venues, championed monthly meetings among licensed beverage businesses, law enforcement, regulatory agencies and residents. The purpose is to review recent incidents, provide a forum for speakers about legal and business issues and build better relationships among all the stakeholders.

“It is up to us as business operators to take a leadership role in responding to issues in our neighborhoods. Sometimes a new business operator isn’t fully informed and we work with the police and residents as ‘mentors’ to help,” observes McFall.

Recognizing the importance of nightlife to attract conventions, tourists, businesses and residents, the Chicago Police Department established the Entertainment Venue Team as a complement to the monthly meetings.

According to Commander Steve Georgas, “The dedicated unit provides more consistency and an opportunity to properly train officers on venue codes and a specialized policing approach for areas with a high concentration of nightlife activity by maintaining positive working relationships with the businesses and their staff.”

Business owners and managers coming together to work with city officials is also becoming the norm in New York City. The New York Nightlife Association (NYNA), established in 1998, has had its ups and downs in membership, as one crisis after another has come and gone.

“Merging with the New York Restaurant Association in 2006 gave us the staff and benefits we could not have had with our limited number of members,” observes Rob Bookman, co-founder and general counsel. “But as a committee, we have undertaken our own projects, highlighting the special interests of our members.”

Among these was the publication of the Economic Impact of the Nightlife Industry in New York City report, which revealed eye-opening findings on the value of the “nighttime economy.”

In 2003, the report states, the New York City nightlife industry generated an estimated $9.7 billion in economic activity, $2.6 billion in earnings (primarily wages) and 95,500 jobs. Nightlife also contributed an estimated $391 million in tax revenues to New York City and an additional $321 million to New York State, with an annual attendance at nightlife venues estimated to be in excess of 65 million — more than the attendance at all New York City’s professional sporting events and Broadway performances combined.

Armed with this data, the NYNA earned a place at the table among key political leaders in the city to represent the voice of nightlife. Policy recommendations are viewed through a new lens of how they may affect the citywide economy. This report also opened the door to collaboration with police. Businesses and police established a groundbreaking working relationship, which led to security trainings and, in a joint press conference in 2008, the release of “Nightlife Best Practices,” which outlined steps that venue management can take to improve safety in and around their establishments.

“Our next project is creating a ‘Nightlife Preservation Community’ web site to engage patrons and our employees in our cause,” proclaims Bookman. NYNA will enlist the multiple web sites that host information about the city’s nightlife to direct the more than 500,000 users to information on safety tips and also to promote support for nightlife-friendly elected officials.

It is not just large cities with nightlife associations taking a proactive lead in collaborative partnerships. From Seattle to Burlington, business owners are uniting, organizing server and safety training, incorporating technology like ID scanners and cameras and, most importantly, sitting at the table with residents and officials to collaborate on solutions to noise, crowds, underage drinking, over-service, late-night transportation and trash management.

While each side draws boundaries challenging the other to cross, it is only when bridges are built that everyone can get to the same destination — safe and vibrant places for all residents and all visitors to meet and socialize. This is important, as sharing food, beverages, music and dance are essential ingredients of a healthy society and a sociable city. NCB


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