Monday, September 5, 2011

Measure Twice Cut Once

By Paul Seres

The following is an op-ed piece from an operator, community board member and leader in the nightlife industry about the way local government relates to nightlife.

Growing up I’d be at my father’s side on any household project he felt like undertaking. Helping where I could, I found my place learning the basics of simple carpentry by observing him. Until I was old enough, the closest I got to power tools was helping him measure before work could begin. “Measure twice, cut once” was drilled into my brain to insure we could be as efficient as possible.

Somehow, many of the powers that be that run this City never learned that lesson when it comes to nightlife. The nighttime economy of New York, or as we like to call it, the "Other Nine to Five", is a powerful economic engine that provides more jobs and revenues to the State and the City than any other form of entertainment, including Broadway and all of the sports teams combined. And yet with all of that economic activity, the industry as a whole is often treated like a red headed stepchild when it comes to meaningful planning for nightlife activity.

In the never-ending cycle of gentrification, nightlife establishments play an important role in becoming a catalyst for future real estate development. In most instances it works likes this… In areas with warehouses or commercial or manufacturing zoning, one or two brave nightlife entrepreneurs will set up shop, hoping to attract the trendy and the elite. Next comes a few more nightlife establishments followed by restaurants who come in to capitalize on this new found flow of foot traffic. The galleries begin to move in followed by the trendy retail shops. Finally, the new residential development arrives cashing in on the newest trendy area. And that’s when the quality of life complaints begin, even though the nightlife establishments were there first.

For the better part of 20 years, Jim Peters of the Responsible Hospitality Institute has been dealing with this very issue in other municipalities who welcome a strong and burgeoning nighttime economy. His teachings are simple, almost obvious practices that are seldom ever followed, Plan, Manage and Police. If a city plans for the late night businesses, and sets up proper infrastructure to better help them manage, then the easy part becomes policing.

New York has become such a vast and expensive treasure trove of real estate valuations that not many people are thinking past tomorrow. New York just doesn’t plan and has no system of managing nighttime businesses. So it is left up to police to function in a way that is not productive as policing cannot make up for the lack of prior planning and managing by City government. This is exactly what is currently happening in the Lower East Side.

Cities such as Seattle and San Francisco, who recognize the importance of a vibrant nighttime economy, have set up governmental agencies to act as a liaison to these businesses. New York has an office for the film and television industry, offering tax incentives to attract productions of a variety of types and formats. So why can’t New York City, “the city that never sleeps” have someone representing the thousands of employees, business owners, and the millions of patrons who travel not only from other states but from all over the world to experience New York City when the sun goes down and the lights come up. This is something the New York Nightlife Association has advocated for years now.

New Yorkers are forced to deal with an ever increasing amount of issues that affect their daily lives, so wouldn’t it be in the city planner’s interest to measure twice and cut once? Shouldn’t there be designated nightlife districts that would make planning, managing and ultimately policing these areas so much easier so there wouldn’t be these constant clashes with quality of life issues. If my father was smart enough to impart the wisdom of measure twice and cut once, I think those that we select to represent our interests should do the same.

Paul Seres is the President of the New York Nightlife Association as well as being on Manhattan Community Board 4 where he co-chairs the business licensing and permit’s committee for licensed establishments. He is also a Partner in Patuá, a roof top restaurant lounge in the Fashion District set to open in 2012

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