After returning from the Responsible Hospitality Institute's (RHI) 2008 networking conference in San Francisco District 3 City Councilman Bruce Kraus had a vision of what East Carson Street could be if residents and business people, bar owners and bar patrons worked together for the betterment of the community where they all live, work and play.
Mr. Kraus enlisted the aid of staff intern Bryan Woll, hired through a grant from the Local Government Academy, to research and prepare a report recommending best practices for the South Side business community and beyond. Mr. Woll would distribute the work as Inviting, Safe, and Cohesive: A proposal for the Management of the South Side Using Responsible Hospitality Practices.
Part of the vision Mr. Kraus had was to eventually bring the RHI conference to Pittsburgh where more local people could attend and learn how business owners and residents can learn how to coexist together in a way that was mutually beneficial. On a smaller scale, part of the vision is coming true next week when the RHI's Sociable City Forum on Nighttime Economies kicks off a five-city tour in Pittsburgh on June 8.
The Pittsburgh forum at the Sheraton Station Square will feature a national panel of experts on nighttime economies including: Jim Peters, RHI president; Jerry W. Waters, Sr. director of the Office of Regulatory Affairs for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board; Gamal Hennessy, author of Seize the Night: The Business and Culture of New York Nightlife; Leland Wilcox, downtown coordinator for the city of San Jose; Ed Book, Gainesville police captain; Shirley Lowe, executive director of Old Strathcona Business Association in Edmonton, Canada; and, James Keblas, director of Seattle Office of Film and Music.
While researching RHI practices for hospitality zones for his report Mr. Woll learned that there are some 300 cities using some form of the recommendations and of those, 20 have completely immersed themselves in the process. The report was so well accepted and received that Mr. Woll and Mr. Kraus were invited to attend and present the report at the yearly RHI conference in Austin, TX last year where it received a Merit Award for Safety and Vibrancy.
The councilman explains each community or city has to determine which best practices fit in with their particular situation.
"It's not one size fits all," he says pointing out New York put together their own set of best practices, one that he thinks could be a model for businesses on South Side. He adds "we've stolen a couple of ideas from Toronto" and a lot could be learned from Gainesville and that city's 67 percent drop in underage drinking once RHI principles were adopted.
RHI principles include the "5 Cs" of: Communication, Cooperation, Consensus, Commitment and Collaboration.
"It's a self-governed situation for the community," Mr. Kraus continued. He points to a positive collaboration between three separate factions of South Side, the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. nighttime economy, the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daytime economy and the residential community as all being equally important and dependent on each other for the success of the neighborhood.
Mr. Woll goes on to explain that the 20 cities immersed in responsible hospitality see it as an ongoing process, not a project. They continue to concentrate on the six RHI focus areas of: security, safety and service; community policing; music and entertainment; multi-use sidewalks; late-night integrated transportation; and, quality of life.
To attract a wider audience for the Sociable City Forum next week the councilman's office has mailed information to almost 500 liquor serving establishments throughout the city, hand delivered information about the RHI to every liquor serving business from Station Square to the SouthSide Works and are following up with telephone calls and personal invitations.
Mr. Kraus says he has also personally invited all members of city council to attend in addition to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Public Safety Director Michael Huss; Chief of Police Nate Harper; Fire Chief Darryl Jones; and, other top ranking city, county and state officials.
While most RHI events are attended by core businesspeople, Mr. Woll said the Pittsburgh event will include government officials and residents. More than 800 area residents will have received information about the conference as well.
"We're going to have a cross section of the community at this event," he said. "It will be valuable for the RHI people as well."
Mr. Kraus said one of the things he hopes to accomplish is to "remove himself from the mix" and to have the experts explain how a proactive approach can be good for everyone. He says he often hears that all the problems in South Side could be solved with more police.
"Once we've had a police officer introduced into the mix, it's already too late," the councilman says. He believes by incorporating the RHI principles it will greatly reduce the number of incidents in the neighborhood. "It's not about punishment or enforcement, it's about behavior."
"Come down and have a good time, but if you step out of line you're in trouble," he said.
He also believes the city may have to take a look at how it does business in South Side. "Everything we have here takes place Thursday night through Sunday while city services are 9 to 5, Monday through Friday."
South Side organizations are also recruiting neighborhood stakeholders to participate in the one-day forum. Rick Belloli, executive director of the South Side Local Development Company, explains they will be sending a contingent of about a dozen staff, board members and business owners to the conference and the South Side Chamber of Commerce will add another half dozen to the total.
He points out that the SSLDC has been sending staff to RHI conferences for about the last five years. Two years ago, the SSLDC organized the trip to San Francisco for the conference for a group of five South Side stakeholders including Mr. Kraus and sees this month's Sociable City forum as a direct outgrowth of that trip.
After the 2008 conference, the South Side contingent convened to brief the community on what they had learned; Mr. Belloli said they hope to do the same thing again this year.
Nancy Eshelman, president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, is "thrilled" about the reception she has had from the bar and restaurant owners when approached about attending the event. The businesses approached by the chamber were excited about the opportunity to make South Side a better place to live and do business.