‘Unprecedented’ Nightlife Town Hall creates new dialogue between residents and city
Is Brooklyn the next Berlin?
Brooklyn is the only borough in the city where electricity usage actually increases after 7 p.m., according to Con Edison and Borough President Eric Adams.
In other words, Brooklyn comes alive at night.
It was, therefore, only fitting that the inaugural session of the Office of Nightlife’s five-borough Listening Tour took place in Kings County.
“Unprecedented,” “first of its kind” and “a long time coming” were some of the ways attendees described Tuesday’s gathering in Prospect Heights.
It was also the first opportunity for the public to meet the Office of Nightlife’s founding Senior Executive Director Ariel Palitz, who is also referred to as the Night Mayor.
“The purpose of this Listening Tour is to show the city has heard the concerns of operators, employees, patrons, performers, as well as residents, and all the agencies here tonight have also heard you, and we are here as one, united,” Palitz said.
“It’s a conversation [and] it’s a new beginning on how to approach nightlife as a whole together.”
More than 10 city and state agencies tasked with regulating nightlife were on hand to hear the concerns of hundreds of nightlife professionals, residents and patrons, including NYPD, FDNY, the New York State Liquor Authority, 311 and the Department of Buildings, among others.
In September 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law legislation sponsored by Councilmember Rafael Espinal to create the Office of Nightlife and a Nightlife Advisory Board. Espinal included in his bill a requirement to host a Listening Tour.
The branch acts as a liaison between residents, nightlife professionals and city agencies to promote a safe and vibrant nightlife.
“When you think about this industry, there’s a disconnect, and I’m amazed as I travel across the globe and see the different treatment of the nightlife industry in places like Berlin, South America and China,” Adams said.
“The industry is embraced and the amount of commerce that the nightlife industry brings to New York City, it should be treated with that level of dignity and respect. … It has become a major economic engine.”
Brooklyn’s nightlife scene is integral to New York City’s economy, producing a $35.1 billion economic impact, $13.1 billion in wages and $698 million in tax revenue.
The borough also boasts 21 percent of the city’s venues and creates 300,000 jobs in the industry.
Many residents complained at the meeting of rising rents and zoning issues, which cause many creative spaces to close, most notably some of Brooklyn’s DIY venues like Shea Stadium, Death by Audio and Silent Barn.
“We won’t need an Office of Nightlife because there won’t be any nightlife left if each cultural institution is turning into Duane Reades and Chase Banks,” one attendee said.
Many of the city and state agencies made their employees available after the meeting to meet directly with aggrieved citizens and have their specific concerns addressed.
“We want to make sure the state doesn’t see you as taxation through citation, allowing you the opportunity to communicate with community residents and teach people how the nightlife industry is safe,” Adams said. “We want to have our law enforcement agencies view this industry as a partner.”
Unfortunately, many residents said that “taxation through citation” is exactly what is happening, and it’s forcing many minority-owned businesses to close.
Bar and restaurant owners across the borough complained of the notorious “marches,” where police officers and city employees flood venues on busy nights, shutting them down and handing out expensive citations. “It’s harassment disguised as enforcement,” one operator said.
Another bar owner said that the citations are almost always thrown out in court, which is a positive, but the legal process is expensive and cumbersome for family-owned businesses.
On the other side of the discussion, residents complained of bars blaring music onto the street and their patrons leaving the sidewalk covered in beer cans. One mother said she was tired of her children stepping over urine and vomit on the way home from the playground.
“Everyone’s concerns are valid,” Espinal told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Everyone wants to be able to run a business in peace, and everyone wants to be able to go to bed at night without any issues.”
“It was great to see the turnout, to have hundreds of businesses and residents come out and have a sounding board,” he added. “It’s the first step in a longer process to making sure nightlife continues to be vibrant in New York City.”
After the Listening Tour concludes, the Office of Nightlife will create a policy recommendation for the City Council and the Mayor’s Office.
The Office of Nightlife’s next stop on the Listening Tour is scheduled in Queens on Oct. 16 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center.
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