Monday, April 24, 2006

NYC to Nightlife: "We Don't Like to Boogie"

The NY Times this morning details the reaction of the city's nightlife businesses to what appears to be a crackdown on an industry that generates an annual $9.7 billion for New York and employs over 19,000 people. Last month five clubs were closed and as Rob Bookman, the attorney for the New York Nightlife Association (NYNA) told the paper, "The city doesn't realize it, but they're killing the goose that laid the golden egg."

All of this is being driven it seems by a concerted effort of local residents to rid their neighborhoods of what they feel is a proliferation of bars and clubs. The effort is abetted by the city's 311 system that allows folks to complain incessantly-and anonymously- about noise and rowdiness.

The reaction of the police is instructive. The department's spokesman says, "We expect people to keep illegal activity out of their premises...The police have an obligation to stop it if the club operators will not or cannot." The club owners point out, however, that almost all of the drug activity has been by customers and the transactions have been small.

NYNA's position is that it is impossible to keep clubs with thousands of customers drug-free. Certainly, as one club's lawyer points out, "Should George Steinbrenner be penalized if drugs are found at Yankee Stadium?"

What this all means is that there is the need for some kind of rapprochement between the city, its neighborhoods and the businesses that are vital to the growth of our economy. In meant neighborhoods that are going through gentrification the bars and clubs have been operating for years without the kinds of vigorous complaints we're seeing today. In addition, areas that weren't previously residential are now seeing new housing arise with all of the potential for more business-neighborhood strife.

Exacerbating the situation for the industry is a bill in the Assembly, sponsored by the speaker, that would limit any new liquor license 500 feet or less from an existing establishment. This would mean that no new license could be granted in many areas of Manhattan. Large real estate developments like Atlantic Yards could also be impacted if they had a number of bars, restaurants and/or hotels.

So what we have is a challenge for the city. Some kind of policy is needed that takes into consideration the concerns of neighborhoods but the needs of the nightlife industry as well. Let's see if the city rises to the challenge.