Councilman Bruce Kraus and the Responsible Hospitality Institute address Pittsburgh nightlife issues

With nearly 20 blocks of bars lining East Carson Street, many refer to the South Side as Pittsburgh’s “party district.” On average, 20,000 revelers flock to the area each weekend.

When Councilman Bruce Kraus came into office as the District 3 representative in 2008, there was no plan to manage the increasing levels of alcohol consumption in the neighborhood. Since being sworn in, he has pushed for a plan to address the ever-growing nightlife that has begun to adversely affect daytime businesses and residential life in South Side.

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In April, Kraus brought the Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI) to Pittsburgh to reduce the negative impact of nightlife on the neighborhoods that host it.  On Dec. 12, after nearly five years of pushing for change and eight months spent in the discovery phase, Kraus and the RHI presented the “Pittsburgh Sociable City Plan” to the public.

Working with the RHI

During his first year in office,  Kraus attended a RHI conference in San Francisco.

“I went to that conference thinking that we were alone and that no one had the unique problems that we had,” he said. “When I left that conference, I learned that not only was there a plan that people were executing to address these issues, but those that had executed the plan were having major success turning around their nightlife.”

When he returned from the conference, Kraus hired Bryan Woll, an intern that spent 500 hours that summer crafting “Inviting, Safe and Cohesive: A Proposal for the Management of the South Side Using Responsible Hospitality Practices.”

In April 2012, City Council agreed to pay the Responsible Hospitality Institute $100,000 to facilitate an alliance between stakeholders throughout the city to address problems arising in Pittsburgh’s “entertainment” districts.

Jim Peters, executive director of the RHI, has a special connection to Pittsburgh as a former resident and restaurant owner. He said to make Pittsburgh a “Sociable City,” it must have a healthy balance of safety and nightlife vibrancy that supports the social experience of the city’s residents and visitors alike.

The “Pittsburgh Sociable City Plan” has become a city-wide initiative, bringing together both public and private entities. It is a holistic approach to a problem that many divergent neighborhoods in the city are dealing with. In all, 167 people including those from 17 government agencies, 45 businesses or business related organizations, 13 community groups and nine educational institutions have participated in the discussion process.

In this video, Councilman Kraus explains responsible hospitality practices.

Michael Papariella, president of the South Side Bar and Restaurant Association, said he has seen more progress through the development of this plan than he has over the last 20 years he has been in the South Side bar industry.

“This is not about hurting business or damaging business, it is about protecting business and the revenue that it generates,” Kraus said.

Problems the plan addresses

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “Police charged more people with liquor law violations, public intoxication and public drunkenness through 10 months of this year than in each of the previous two years.”Nearly half (47.92%) of all arrests in the South Side occurred between 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m.,” according to the proposal. Over 60% of all arrests on the South Side were related to substance abuse, including: public intoxication, drunk driving, liquor law violations and drug violations.

Some of the major issues that have spurred the Sociable City Plan are:

  • Local businesses and residences are experiencing compromised public safety and quality of life
  • Unmanaged nightlife is a magnet for crime, disorder, drug use and gang activity
  • There  are limited city and state resources for public safety, transportation, emergency services, etc.

Kraus said the two biggest issues he sees in South Side and Oakland are personal safety and accountability issues.

“I would be lying to say that I don’t dread the weekends,” Kraus said.

He recounts the names of lives that have been lost, such as Andrew Guzzi, a 25-year-old man that fell to his death from a fire escape in November, or Lexa Cleland, a seven-year-old girl that was killed in a DUI-related crash as her mother’s vehicle was struck by a young man that had just consumed three liters of beer in 2010.

“Do I worry that another young person is going to fall to their death over the weekend, or that someone is going to be killed or maimed by a drunk driver?… Absolutely. I worry greatly about those things,” Kraus said.

Recommendations from the RHI

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Based on best practices, creating a “Responsible Hospitality Zone” involves working with police, businesses, and other community groups to help create a clean, safe space both for entertainment and living. Four case study districts were identified for the information gathering and assessment process including: South Side, Oakland, Downtown, Lawrenceville and the North Shore.

RHI’s formal recommendations include:

  • District Management Actions- The Plan’s first step is to examine the  current zoning codes and regulations to determine how a zoning overlay can be utilized to shape nightlife growth in a positive, viable and sustainable way.
  • Public Safety Actions- The formation of a “Hospitality and Public Safety Team,” will enhance the deployment of field officers with specialized training. Other RHI cities have shown that this direct supervision can reduce crime and disorder. Communication and collaboration with nightlife businesses must also be improved to efficiently collect data to monitor and address risks.
  • Transportation Actions- Transportation and mobility management are necessary components of a safe hospitality zone. This includes revamping transportation options to better integrate public transportation, easier and safer bicycle mobility, and increasing pedestrian safety.
  • Personal Accountability Actions– RHI believes there is a need to “broaden the sphere of responsibility for public safety to the individuals who participate in nighttime entertainment and nightlife activity in on-premise and off-premise venues.” The focus here is on changing people’s attitudes and engaging young adults. This also calls for improved data collection and dissemination.
  • Hospitality Actions- The plan recommends developing model practices for business plans on marketing, safety and security and begin the process of measuring the economic, employment and social impact of the nighttime economy.

One component of the plan is to educate individuals that are out drinking on how to do it in a safe manner. Peters gave the example of Edmonton, Alberta and their advertising campaigns, such as “Save the Party,” and “Night Gone Right,” as examples.

Responsible Hospitality moving forward

Kraus said like anything else, this project has been met with some hesitation.

“With anything, it is a struggle to change,” he said. “It takes people out of their comfort zone. I think to find the courage to change, one has to admit some sense of failure, and that is not always an easy thing to do.”

Councilman and mayoral candidate Bill Peduto praised Kraus and those involved for their work.

“I’m impressed that you have not looked at these issues as a problem, but as an opportunity,” Peduto said.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s office has agreed to fund the RHI plan for a second year. Kraus and Peters said they will begin working on implementation in the beginning of 2013.

Stay connected to The Institute Blog to learn more about responsible hospitality in Pittsburgh neighborhoods and the implementation of the Sociable City Plan.  Also, look for a profile of Councilman Bruce Kraus early next year about long-term recovery and giving back to the community.