Nightlife on Main Streets: Hospitality Zone strategies in business districts

June 14 2010

For years we’ve done work with Mainstreets Pittsburgh, including with the URA and several Pittsburgh neighborhood business districts.  In some districts there are a variety of problems generated through nighttime activities in bars and clubs. You’re heard about it, with the South Side being one case study.  On June 8th City Councilman Bruce Kraus hosted a conference called Sociable City 2010: Investing in a Safe and Vibrant Nighttime Economy.” (press release) The ideas brought by a panel of experts are a fine compliment to Main Streets strategies.

Before last week, we had not heard of the Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI), which organized the Pittsburgh conference and is staging similar events for “nightlife solutions” in 20 states this year.  Here are some highlights of the Institute’s strategies. (plus, read Post-Gazette article on the Conference)

What is a Hospitality Zone?

market square hospitality zoneThese are often located in a mixed-use business district. Within many districts a Hospitality Zone is…

“An area of specialized mixed uses distinguished by a high concentration of dining and entertainment businesses, such as restaurants, pubs, taverns, cafes and nightclubs… (It) often has an active street life and may serve as a center for community fairs, festivals and events.”

But, according to RHI…

“Unplanned hospitality zones are costly, lead to conflicts, excessive burdens on police and demands on elected officials to manage safety and quality of life impacts.”

Pittsburgh’s South Side:  working on solutions

One element that often distinguishes these zones is the serving of alcohol, which, when combined with entertainment, can cause a variety of problems in communities. For example, here are the results of a study of the South Side summer weekend night arrests from 2007-09:

• median # of arrests/weekend:  4

• 40% for drunken driving

• 28% for simple assault

• 15% for drug violations

police in a hospitality zoneIn addition, 61 % of all South Side arrests throughout the entire day took place between midnight and 3:00 am.  And when the police conducted Operation Sweep for 12 weeks from April through June 2007, the median number of arrests per weekend jumped to 48 —up from 4 per weekend of normal policing!  That’s because an extra 33 police officers patrolled for those 12 weekends.  BTW, the South Side has 124 liquor licenses with the capacity to serve 20,000 people at any one time—i.e. 4 bar stools for each of its residents over the age of 18!

So, the key question with Hospitality Zones is how  can they contribute to the vitality of a city or a community without the downside?  The answer is in planning, management, partnerships and a new kind of enforcement strategy. The South Side now has a detailed analysis and plan developed on Hospitality Zone principles.

The other 9-5 economy

Most people work in the daytime 9-5 economy. Some of them play in the nighttime 9-5 economy, too. Despite the potential problems, a vibrant and safe nightlife can add much to a city. Consider the employment and taxes generated by this economy.  Plus the diverse venues in a hospitality zone provide varied ways for people to socialize, from residents to tourists. Read here about the potential positive impacts that well planned and managed hospitality zones can produce.

RHI spotlights six core elements to develop a “safe and vibrant nighttime economy” including:  • Entertainment • Multi-use sidewalks • Venue safety • Public safety • Transportation • Quality of life (for the community).

Targeting several ‘Social Generations’

First, in the planning process it helps to think of potential markets for Hospitality Zones.  Many districts narrowly focus on young singles and the bar and club scene.  Instead, think of 4 potential generational markets defined by RHI offering “diverse options for diverse ages and cultures:”

  • Estes Park hospitality zoneSingles—individuals in their late teens and early 20s with limited funds.
  • Mingles—older couples or social groups of any age with a common interest
  • Families—having children often reduces the frequency of going out, but not entirely
  • Jingles—business travelers, vacationers, or empty nesters with more money to spend

Planned and managed properly, a Hospitality Zone is a place “where people of diverse ages, incomes and lifestyles unite as a community to share food, beverages, music and dance in public venues.” Good planning and management makes the zones much easier to market.

A shift in thinking—to “concierge” government and policing

Sociable City advocates also make the assumption that most businesses want to do the right thing and that most consumers are well behaved. A healthy Hospitality Zone is more helpful in many ways to businesses, as well as customers and residents.  It involves shifts in thinking:

  • from enforcement (catching) to compliance (educating)
  • from policing to problem solving
  • from security (“guns & badges”) to safety (safe environment & monitoring)

More than one speaker at the June 8th Conference in Pittsburgh recommended not using off-duty police officers for nighttime enforcement, but rather a trained team.  In Gainesville the team includes specially trained police and graduate students.  In addition, some Hospitality Zone plans provide a variety of support systems for businesses, starting with business planning and including education on codes, compliance and approval processes.

“Soft closings” can help

More than once at the June 8th conference the experts mentioned the strategy of “soft closings” for bars and clubs, meaning the serving of drinks ends say an hour before the establishment closes.  This can spread out the exodus from a Hospitality Zone and give people time to sober up.  Remember that fully 48% of ALL arrests throughout the day on the South Side happen between 1:00am and 3:00am and that 46% of those are directly related to alcohol.

Primary hospitality stakeholder groups

To make it work, the planning and management process needs to involve a variety of stakeholder groups. RHI’s Sociable City Network unites leaders from six primary stakeholder groups – Hospitality, Safety, Development, Community, Entertainment and Research – with online forums and access to the latest news and event calendars.

Sociable City Network

MORE INFORMATION at The Sociable City Network.  Find out more about another excellent organization: Project for Public Spaces.

Call or email to discuss your Main Street or Hospitality Zone strategies today.

  1. John Burke | June 16th, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Hi Randy:
    I would be interested in hearing about how established Hospitality Districts in other cities have funded their operations. It appears this could be a mix of voluntary contributions and self assessments much like the Neighborhood Business Improvement District legislation in PA allows. Given the prior failed efforts to organize a NID/BID in Southside, perhaps the issue of Hospitality is enough of an organizing issue to prompt an education campaign to help raise self awareness of property owners and restaurants/bars. Best regards, John Burke URA

  2. Randy Strothman | June 16th, 2010 at 9:27 am

    John,
    I don’t have many notes on funding from the Conference, but do have one from a speaker from San Jose, Leland Wilcox, Downtown Coordinator, City of San Jose City Manager. Their program is annually funded to the tune of $400,000 by the venues themselves with contributions based on size of the venue. My notes say that budget pays mainly for specially trained police teams. I did not hear any use of terms like NID or BID, although this sounds something like that.

    There were three other speakers who run programs too, from Gainesville, Seattle and Edmonton. Perhaps getting in touch with Jim Peters, President of the Responsible Hospitality Institute could answer your questions.

  3. Jack | June 27th, 2010 at 8:39 am

    I find the concept of “Soft Closings” interesting. I often thought that, in Pennsylvania, it would be beneficial for bars to be allowed to stay open until 3AM. The serving of alchohol would continue to stop at 2. I know as a former bar owner, this would have alleviated many problems late night. A sort of decompression period. A lot of sobering up can happen in 1 hour. Shoving intoxicated patrons on to the street all at once at 2 in the morning is not benneficial for anyone.

  4. Randy Strothman | June 27th, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Jack, yes I thought that strategy sounded good, too. Your experience as a bar owner is valuable. It seems to me that an important part of the strategy, too, is to spread out the exit from the community… so that 100s even thousands of likely intoxicated people are not leaving at the same time. Would seem to lessen the chances of fights, etc.

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