Monday, April 16, 2007

That's Entertainment!

Sunday's edition of The News Tribune ran our oped on the need for an "entertainment district" approach to managing conflicting uses in the Theater District (particularly the Lower Pacific blocks once known as "Whiskey Row").

Local property owners, business managers and residents are being invited to a meeting later this month to examine how a collaborative effort--based upon guidelines established by the Responsible Hospitality Institute--might lead to lessened friction between the different uses operating there. RHI's guidelines define "best practices" to help local groups assess and address current and future issues, resources, gaps and trends related to dining, entertainment and special events. Ultimately, the effort can help develop new regulations that can help diverse uses successfully co-exist.

If it's successful, this process can be more effective than the "top down" approach currently being pursued in Seattle. We're Tacoma--we can do better!


  1. I checked out the Responsible Hospitality Hospitality Institute (RHI) - it is underwritten by alcohol companies. I also looked up one the "tools" that they use to balance the concerns of all stakeholders in an area - it is called the "Right to Party" ordinance.

    It seems to me that what is being proposed here is a type of blanket ordinance to create an anything goes party zone that anyone who happens to have the misfortune of living in has to accept because it has been formally designated as such.

    I strongly object - the City of Tacoma required me to put in residential units as part of my mixed use building - I expect to have equal say in how this area is designated and what I have the right to expect as a resident. Here is an excerpt of one of RHI's "tool" ordinances:

    "You are hereby notified that the property you own, are renting, leasing, using, occupying or
    acquiring an interest in is located within the downtown specific plan area. You may be subject to impacts, including inconvenience and discomfort, from lawful activities occurring within the downtown specific plan area. Impacts may include, but are not limited to: Noise from music,
    dancing and voices associated with permitted downtown uses and activities, odors associated with restaurants, business operations and special events, traffic congestion, street closures and traffic rerouting, exclusion of vehicle access to certain areas during special events, increased pedestrian activity, trash and recycling collection, including trash and recycling collection before 6 a.m., railroad operations, including rail activity associated with passenger rail operations, outdoor sales of merchandise and outdoor restaurant seating, festivals, parades and other civic and cultural activities, generally high activity levels occuring on a 24-hour basis, including impacts during late night and early morning hours, high levels of lighting and illumination, and noise and other impacts associated with the operation of any permitted use located in the downtown specific plan area.

    One or more of the inconveniences described above may occur as a result of downtown operations and activities which are in compliance with existing laws and regulations and accepted customs and standards. If you own, lease, rent or otherwise utilize property within the downtown specific plan area, you should be prepared to accept such inconveniences or discomfort as a normal and necessary aspect of owning, living in, operating a business in, or otherwise utilizing an area with a vibrant downtown character."

  2. What we're proposing is simply to get the various parties together to initiate some dialog around what regulations/activities need to be in place and how they might be implemented--a process we believed you and others would support. No "blanket ordinance" of any kind--in fact, our oped takes Seattle to task for its use of that kind of "top down" approach. As to RHI, the Institute has a wide variety of tools to offer, but the only tools we are interested in picking up are the ones that will work for our downtown--that's why we're organizing the meeting, not contracting with RHI to run it.

    Your objection is noted and will be taken to heart. We still hope that you will participate in the upcoming meeting.

  3. This is Jim Peters, president, Responsible Hospitality Institute. I am pleased that Tacoma is considering establishing a unifing process to include hospitality, safety, development and community perspectives in the process of an evolving downtown. It is through an open and facilitated forum that voices like Laura can be heard.

    It is true that some of RHI's funding comes from beer, wine and spirits organizations. But we also receive funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a three year demonstration project on how a Hospitality Resource Panel/Partnership (HRP)can expand involvement of traffic and highway safety prevention organizations as part of planning downtown "hospitality zones" to reduce alcohol-related driving and pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

    A growing portion of our funding as a non-profit organization comes from cities contracting with us to be a facilitator and to share the experience we've gathered over the years.

    What is most important is not where funding comes from, but rather how it is used. All funds from industry are unrestricted. There are no mandates and no censorship.

    The ordinance Laura refers to is from Livermore, California (perhaps misrepresented as a right-to-party - so we'll correct this). We had no involvement in the development of this, but we post it because the cities we work in wanted examples of something that could be used as a "disclosure statement" for residents moving into an area where there is an active evening and late night, and where there are occassional events (Fourth of July, cultural festivals, etc.)

    If Laura would like I can refer her to developers and residential organizations in other cities where conflicts led to lawsuits over misrepresentation and protests to city council and police to "fix the problem" of the noise from restaurants, clubs, early morning deliveries, trash trucks etc.

    If Laura reviewed the table of contents of the Practical Guide we developed (on the same page she found the Livermore example) based upon research done in more than a dozen cities throughout the United States and Canada, she might see we do take a balanced approach, focusing on six core elements (Community Policing; Security, Service and Safety; Multi-use Sidewalks; Quality of Life; Integrated Late-Night Transportation; Music and Entertainment).

    Most importantly the Hospitality Zone Assessment process we utilize involves a dozen or more representatives from four primary stakeholder groups - hospitality, safety, development and community - to have input, and determine what the trends, issues, gaps and resources are in an evolving nighttime economy. As a result, 60-80 people representing almost as many public, private, and government organizations are included.

    Laura's experience is not unique to Tacoma. I just returned from London, Amsterdam and Cape Town, and like U.S. and Canadian cities, cranes building high rise residential units dot the skyline. One has to ask, who is willing to pay the high prices for such small spaces, leaving behind their suburban houses?

    We call them the "Bookend Generations", the aging Baby Boomers and the emerging Millennials (with the class of 2009 projected to be the largest in U.S. history), both seeking a safe and vibrant "cafe society" to meet, eat, drink, and most importantly, socialize.

    The difference is one group goes to bed at 10 p.m. while the other, just getting off of their jobs in many cases, goes out at 10 p.m.

    I suggest Laura review the ordinance from Hollywood, or the Promoters Checklist also on the tools section, that doesn't advocate an "anything goes" party zone, but rather thoughtfully, and systematically plans and imposes conditions on businesses to be responsive to safety and quality of life concerns of residents and daytime businesses.

    Please, feel free to contact me if you have questions or require referrals from residents and other advocacy organizations in cities where we have worked. Good luck, and remember, if you don't plan, manage and police your hospitality zone, it will, as someone from Seattle once said, "Just happen." Often with consequences you don't want.