December 26, 2012 | Vol. 73 No. 22

Support strong for Sociable City Plan

Representatives from various city departments, along with those from the URA and night time economy businesses attended the post agenda hearing to release details of the Responsible Hospitality Institute’s Pittsburgh Sociable City Plan.

After opening remarks by Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI) President Jim Peters, Councilman Kraus call upon the various representatives to comment on the plan and the process.

“The Pittsburgh Sociable City Plan is one that has really been garnering a lot of power and interest in developing over the months. People in the neighborhoods are very interested, resident are very interested, business owners are interested,” said Candice Gonzalez from the Mayor’s Office.

She said they have made progress and identified common ground

“You have consensus in the direction we are going,” she added. Ms. Gonzalez said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will hold a press conference in January to discuss the plan.

Councilman Kraus said city council has agreed to fund a second year of the RHI initiative specifically to address implementation.

“The report is pretty magnificent,” Mr. Kraus said. “[But the report] is simply a report if the recommendations are not implemented.”

Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant was the first of the public safety officials to speak.

“We are in favor of this plan, mainly because it is a plan and it brings all the stakeholders together,” she said.

“Most often, when there is a problem they look toward the police and there’s a lot we can resolve, but our job would be so much easier if everyone who was involved came to the table and helped us.”

Asst. Chief Bryant said she asked public safety officials about their plans with RHI and didn’t hear any negative feedback, it was all positive. She added that their plans were all shaped to the individual city.

“So often what people get is a band-aid and it’s usually the entity that is most vocal that gets the band-aid,” she added. “This is more than a band-aid, this is a fix.

“This is not about prohibition. This is not about squelching night life. This is not about being ogres,” Councilman Kraus responded. “This is about understanding the value, the inherent value of being a sociable city. Understanding that, we have to change our culture. That we have to adapt to a 24/7, 365 world.

“That cities no longer operate Monday through Friday 9-5 and if everybody’s off in the evenings and weekend, then we just throw the problem on the police officers and say you simply have to fix this because no none else is working in the city.”

Assistant Fire Chief Colin Rossi was in approval of the plan, specifically in South Side and Lawrenceville where “we have beautiful and gorgeous history” mixed in with entertainment districts which draw a lot of people.

“Fire safety and accountability and overcrowding are a concern for us,” he said.

Kevin McCarthy, the assistant district attorney in charge of the Nuisance Bar Task Force, said the district attorney’s response has always been at the end of the problem.

“I’m always fond of saying, ‘when the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,’” he said.

He added they have to deal with the hospitality district along with the whole neighborhood and can’t look at it strictly as a law enforcement response to a crime.

“I’ve heard a lot of cries that took place from the residents about the night time economy. How they want it to thrive, they want it to stay in their community, but they weren’t happy at the aftermath of it when the bars and restaurants are closing,” said senior city planner Ashley Holloway. “Just to have this plan here set in motion. To say here to the residents, ‘your cries are not unheard. We are here to help and to serve you and we are working to improve the district.’”

Ernie Sota, a South Side builder and developer, said the money for the Sociable City Plan was “extremely well placed” and was “critically necessary.” He said potential homebuyers are continually asking about it when they come to the neighborhood.

Mike Paparella, president of the South Side Bar and Restaurant Association said his organization is dedicated to keeping the South Side both a daylight destination, which it’s been for years, along with having a safe and responsible night time economy.

“We can shine this as the gem of the city, which I believe South Side should be and I think that it [will be] as we implement some of these strategies,” he said. “The bar and restaurant association is behind the Sociable City Plan 100 percent.”

“We can get the solutions by working together instead of against each other.”

“The bar and restaurant association is dedicated to Finding that common ground that both the bar and restaurant owners and the community can both stand on,” he said.

Adam DeSimone from the AMP’d Group said it was very important to see results. “I want to see implementation.”

“The good operators outweigh the bad operators by ten-fold,” he said. “Hopefully by practicing what we’re going to preach with this plan it will hopefully change the opinion of the bad operators and the good operators will change this whole situation.”

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