Wednesday, July 27, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki
City staff are considering an accreditation program for bars and nightlife businesses operating in the downtown Sixth Street entertainment district, pushing for more cooperation and safety planning standards in part of the evolving plan to address security challenges in the region. Other strategies being considered include preventing crowds from gathering in the middle of the street during weekend closures and using temporary barricades and bollards to better manage crowd movement between bars and restaurants.
Staff members from the Department of Economic Development’s Music and Entertainment Division have traveled to Nashville and the Ybor City/Tampa area of Florida in recent months to examine how those cities run their nightlife entertainment districts. The trips are part of the Safer Sixth Street initiative which was launched last summer after a mass shooting in the street killed a tourist and injured a dozen people.
At last week’s meeting of the Downtown Commission, Division Manager Brian Block said there had recently been consideration of at least partially reopening Sixth Street during weekend rush hours, but there is no realistic way to achieve this without a more extensive redesign and reconstruction of the streetscape. Block did not say the accreditation program for bars, nightclubs and restaurants would replace an entertainment license requirement proposed by some city council members.
“We are looking at how can we help them with safety plans, have more safety and better training and manage the space in front of the bar better with things like line signals and preventing people from loitering,” a- he said, noting a goal to provide grants to accredited businesses to help defray the costs of better lighting, security cameras, ID scanners and metal detectors.
“We thought it would recognize responsible operators and allow us to provide more training and support. It would also be a kind of forum for them to learn, get best practices, and get everyone involved in improving operating standards.
The discussion featured comments from Richard Suttle, a lawyer for Stream Realty Group who has purchased more than 30 lots in the neighborhood in recent years and plans to redo the area with a focus on the high-volume bars that currently dominate the street. Suttle said the Council’s recently initiated code amendment to raise building heights will allow the company to rebuild some of the properties to accommodate offices and hotels that will bring daytime business to the area.
Commissioners were largely encouraged by Stream’s plans, although there were some early concerns from the city’s political and planning community about the historic nature of some of the buildings. Suttle said there was a preliminary effort underway to create a historic district for the area, which he said would add another regulatory layer making projects like Stream more expensive and possibly unworkable.
Commissioner Ben Heimsath welcomed the proposed changes, but pushed Suttle on whether demolishing and rebuilding some spaces is necessary to change the character and makeup of the business.
“There is the immediate issue of safety and security…but Stream could just get better tenants and work with the city on better policing. Many of the goals can be achieved and there is no need to add density,” Heimsath said. “I think it’s going to be transformational, it’s going to take a lot of work and it’s going to change things in a significant way.”
Suttle said early discussions with business owners and entrepreneurs interested in opening restaurants, music venues and other businesses in the area have expressed concern about its long-standing reputation as an area of party where everything happens on weekends with very little activity during the day.
“When you talk to somebody and say trust me you’re building a good restaurant here and all these other shot bars that we don’t control are going to disappear and you’ll have a great deal they look at us like we’re from Mars and say they’re not spending money here until something else happens,” he said. “In order to invest the capital to get real speed , you won’t be able to rent it again and say it didn’t work. We tried that and it just didn’t work.
Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.
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