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Proposed Office of Nightlife a Good Idea

As we mentioned in our September 2015 story on the lifting (mostly) of the Dupont West liquor license moratorium, underlying the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board’s action was its recognition that, “it] believes that if managed properly, a thriving and safe nightlife can act as an economic engine [italics ours] by attracting new businesses and restaurants, diversifying the range of cultural offerings, creating employment opportunities, and increasing tourism. To this end, the Board is in agreement with the ANC that a new direction . . . that allows for responsible growth is warranted.”

The leisure and hospitality sector contributes between 20% and 30% to the District’s economy and nightlife establishments are a significant portion (restaurants, cafés, bars, clubs). Clearly, the ABC Board understands this — and so does Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, whose Committee on Government Operations, which he chairs, on November 8th held a public hearing to consider the bill he introduced (co-sponsored by At-large Councilmember David Grosso), the “Office and Commission  of  Nightlife  Establishment  Act of  2017.” Its stated purpose is succinctly stated, as follows:

“To establish an Office of Nightlife within the Executive Office of the Mayor for . . . coordinating District government agencies, businesses, and community groups to manage the after-hours economy, and to establish a Commission of Nightlife to advise the Mayor, Council, and Office of Nightlife on common issues and trends relating to the after-hours economy.”

From what we have been able to ascertain, there is general support for this across a multitude of “stakeholder” groups beyond the obvious commercial interests — Advisory Neighborhood commissioners, neighborhood groups and civic associations. The fact that cities as different as New York and Pittsburgh — and others –- have gone this route with apparent success has been a factor in early acceptance here.

Nevertheless, there will be clarifications needed, such as a comprehensive delineation of the mission of both the office itself and the commission –- which body is intended to be advisory to the office, but its full role will need to be made clear. What also needs to be made clear is that the Commission won’t just be a meaningless entity but will in fact have an important role in helping the office it will be advising to avoid the temptation to layer on new mandates to already existing rules and requirements from other agencies like the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration or Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

But what makes this idea so amenable to us is that it can be a positive and effective mechanism for bringing together business and neighborhood interests to collegially resolve existing or potential problems that might have a negative impact on residents especially. Already such a process was initiated by the Golden Triangle BID for the stretch of Connecticut Avenue south of Dupont Circle to address the serious congestion and accompanying near-mayhem when bars and clubs disgorge their late night crowds all vying for access to cabs or Uber or their own parked cars. The solution: on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights 60 parking spaces are placed off-limits so as to allow easy curb access for patrons to be swiftly on their way — hitherto nearly impossible because of cabs and cars blocking traffic lanes while waiting for riders. This is a far better solution, we think, than what was recently proposed for the 18th Street nightlife strip in Adams Morgan, an idea we opposed back in August.

The kind of approach as contemplated by this bill points to a recognition that cooperative engagement to solve problems can be the better way to go and do much to prevent confrontational disputes and finger-pointing from all quarters. We already saw the success of this approach when back in 2014 a group of neighbors residing south of Dupont Circle decided to –- as a start — collectively try to work with Connecticut Avenue and M Street nightclub operators to do something about excessive noise emanating at night from their establishments.

And so was formed the Nightlife Noise Coalition, and, as we reported at the time, rather then engage in controversial efforts to shut down or severely limit these places, they focused on addressing and finding solutions, including actively seeking and monitoring enforcement by the city to curb the excessive noise that emanates from many of the nightlife establishments within close proximity to residential and mixed-use areas such as in and around Dupont Circle, 14th Street, the U Street corridor, to name but thre

As one of the group’s leaders told our reporter, they were “pleased that these businesses [were] voluntarily working with us to develop a noise mitigation plan that works for their businesses and that complies with the DC noise control act. We think this approach may be a good model . . . to follow.”

It seems that the bill before the Council is elevating a citizen initiative to a possible stable, “official” level that –- hopefully –- will yield positive results city-wide.

NOTE: a highly informative interview with Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd and Mark Lee, a Washington Blade columnist and former executive director of the DC Nightlife Hospitality Association, which very interestingly addresses numerous concerns and specifics of the proposal can be heard on WAMU’s November 1st Kojo Nnamdi Show by clicking here.


A Reader Comments (slightly edited for posting)

Speak to residents of the Palladium who are very frustrated with the lack of control and enforcement of noise ordinances, which are causing much distress and lack of sleep.  The parking garage has been opening on weekend nights to accommodate late night drivers, resulting in vandalism to cars of residents, and a strong smell of urine often greeting [those entering to get into their cars]. The residents are very unhappy with the situation which currently exists.  Seemingly, the revenue from these bars is trumping (hate to use that word) the concerns of residents who were there long before the proliferation of bars.  Multiple meetings with those responsible for controlling noise , etc. have had mixed results at best. Negotiations with the bar owners have likewise had mixed results.

Longtime resident of the palladium.