About 100 people attended a South Side Community Council meeting at the Brashear Center on June 29 to share ideas on planning, managing, and policing the ‘hospitality zone' which defines East Carson St.
The panelists were: Thom Barry, South Side businessman and former bar owner; Geof Comings, South Side LDC manager of business development; Wanda Jankoski, South Side resident; and Bruce Kraus, District 3 city council representative.
East Carson St. has been referred to as a hospitality zone due to its number of liquor licenses and music venues, making it a dynamic and eclectic regional draw.
The challenge, panelists said, is striking a balance between the thousands of people who flock to the area for nighttime drinking and entertainment, and the quality-of-life issues of those who reside in the neighborhood or operate daytime businesses there.
Those issues include clean, safe streets free of public intoxication, urination, and obscenities; enforcement of local laws and ordinances; private property rights; street parking; and more.
In November, 2008, the panelists attended the Responsible Hospitality Institute Conference in San Francisco which drew more than 130 representatives of 59 cities with similar issues.
The non-profit Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI) promotes cooperation among those involved in hospitality, safety, and community development groups. Discussed at the conference were different strategies for policing and mitigating quality-of-life issues in relation to a nearby entertainment area.
In South Side, there are 58 active liquor licenses on East Carson St., nine at SouthSide Works, and 21 off East Carson St. With an estimated maximum occupancy of 20,000, the bars can have more patrons on a given night than Mellon Arena.
Mr. Comings said the positive impact of this nighttime economy include its being largely responsible for the rebirth of the South Side after the steel mills closed; it attracts a large number of people to the area; and raises millions of dollars.
The negative is the public intoxication, public safety issues, vandalism, litter, noise pollution, public urination, and more.
Some areas of agreement between residents and bar owners are that the nighttime behavior has worsened in recent years. There is also a shared concern about negative events that could take place without more effective enforcement.
The RHI approach to these issues is communication, cooperation, consensus, commitment, and collaboration among stakeholders.
Cities that adopted this approach in hospitality zones report a 100 percent increase in property values; increased transit ridership and crowd control after closing; significant increase in compliance with underage drinking laws; and cleaner sidewalks, lower vacancy rates, and higher renewal rates.
"Pro-active is the word we need to be," said Ms. Jankoski.
Bryan Woll, who the Local Government Academy is funding in Mr. Kraus' office to study the problem, said one idea is classifying the hospitality zone as a police zone. That way officers would get to know the bar owners, the problems in depth, etc.
Another idea is using college students as "information gatherers" to get them more involved in the area.
Students need accountability, said Mr. Woll. After three citations, students in some hospitality zones elsewhere are expelled from school or assigned community service.
He also said bars need to train servers and bouncers, while the city needs to check bars for licenses and occupancy permits.
Chuck Half, of the Mayor's Office, said efforts are underway to get universities involved.
Mr. Barry said a flaw in the state-run liquor business is that a liquor license can be purchased in another town and transferred to a South Side site.
Such ease leads to a proliferation of bars in popular areas.
Its tenets include: The mayor will ask police Chief Harper to review the situation. The Bureau of Building Inspection, and Zoning, will get involved. The Law Department will review materials. The mayor will assign adequate patrols for special events.
"The mayor recognizes things are broken," said Mr. Half.
During the question-and-answer period, a restaurant owner asked why Hofbrauhaus, from Germany, was able to secure a liquor license in light of the city's bar density ordinance. The popularity of the on-site brewers is threatening to put other establishments out of business, he said.
Mr. Half said "the saturation language does not include SouthSide Works."
Mr. Kraus said it is not included as it is assumed private property by the city. Also, according to the agreement negotiated by the URA, 25 percent of the SouthSide Works can have liquor. About 23 percent have it now.
To an attendee's comment that there does not seem to be much interaction between South Side Works and the rest of Carson St., Mr. Comings said the LTV Steering Committee meets monthy.
"Maybe it's time to turn an eye to that development," he said.
In his presentation, Mr. Kraus said the state "is dictating the state of our neigborhood." The state says any license can come here, leaving the city to manage the consequences, he said.
In a six-county area, there are 4300 liquor licenses, with 2500 in Allegheny County. The 15203 zip code has 136 licenses.
But the state has only 22 agents assigned to it all.
"We need assistance from the state to manage this before it goes to the police," he said.
A first step is enforcement of city and state codes.
Non-alcoholic businesses should not open Sunday mornings to sidewalks filled with litter and broken bottles, he said.
"Other cities have found a solution and we can, too," he concluded.
Following the discussion, the South Side Community Council's 2009 Outstanding South Sider Award was presented by board secretary Eve Trbovich to: Edith Barrett, Kathy Fajerski, and Steve Root.
The award honors residents who are active members of the community.
After the presentation, some attendees broke into small groups to discuss the evening's topics.