The Night Watch

Providence considers hiring a dedicated “nightlife czar”

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The story reads like a dark thriller: Just past midnight, people cluster around the entrance to a dance club. Suddenly, gunshots ring out. A bullet hurtles through a wall. On the dance floor, a man is hit. Police flood the scene. Confusion ensues; the wounded man is rushed to a hospital, where he receives emergency care. Meanwhile, two suspects speed away in a car, police in hot pursuit...

This particular scene unfolded at Flow, a Providence nightclub, on August 19, gaining much attention in local TV media. But such altercations have flared up frequently in recent months. In the late hours, substances make their rounds. Passions run high. Fights can break out – or worse.

Yet some leaders in City Council may have a solution: a “nightlife mayor,” who would help improve public safety and foster healthy, satisfying late-night experiences.

The PVD After Dark campaign was first proposed by City Council’s Katherine Kerwin and Travis Escobar. The pair have earned national attention in the past year, mostly for their millennial youth. But they adopted the idea of a nightlife mayor from other cities – such as New York, Orlando, and even Amsterdam – where the role has already proven successful.

“I think the public safety aspect is very important,” says Councilwoman Kerwin. “But it’s largely about policy.”

The idea is to create an Office of Nightlife and Culture, which would serve as liaison between industry professionals, public safety officials, and city government. High-speed chases aside, the nightlife mayor would cultivate local arts and entertainment and revisit antiquated statutes. If successful, the new office would help make nightlife fun, safe, and profitable for local talent.

“In Providence, we have responsible business owners who have been successful at mitigating issues, and they do so voluntarily, with little fiscal impact,” said Councilman David Salvatore, a vocal supporter of the idea. He mentioned Anthony Santurri, owner of the nightclub Colosseum, who created a handbook for employees about “de-escalating fights.” “I believe that’s why he doesn’t encounter issues of violence inside or outside of his venue. I think he has lots to share.”

Council members have cited a recent “uptick in violence” this year. Most of these reports are anecdotal, but they’re significant: Shots rang out PVDFest, startling crowds and casting a pall over the festival. A spate of assaults have made headlines in the past few months, including a fatal stabbing at Nara Hookah Lounge in Federal Hill and a fatal shooting on Broad Street; these latter events took place only days apart.

“After many acts of violence outside of our clubs and bars, it’s clear we need to start thinking creatively about how to improve our nightlife for all residents,” said Kerwin in a widely circulated statement. “If we create safe places to enjoy our city after dark, we will allow our musicians, artists, and creatives to flourish in these spaces.”

While violence is an urgent reason to consider a nightlife mayor, Kerwin sees an opportunity to foster Providence nightlife on a grand scale, particularly where live music is concerned. She gives credit to the Board of Licenses for diligent work, but she wants to revise old-fashioned policies, such as neighborhood bans on live music – which are often ignored anyway – and a sluggish licensing process. The more stages available, the more gigs for local musicians, and the more cultural opportunities for young folks on the town.

“The nightlife economy is a massive part of the total economy,” says Kerwin. “If anything, we should be making it easy for Providence artists to make a living. And there are a lot of people who want to see more live music.”

The possibility of a nightlife mayor is still a novel idea, and the job is difficult to explain, so Councilman Salvatore decided to test its appeal. He posted polls on social media, asking constituents what they thought of the concept. While this kind of survey hardly passes for scientific, Salvatore found that “54 percent of Facebook respondents and 63 percent of respondents on Twitter agreed that the city should explore creating a similar best practice.”

Cheers to that.