According to City Council President Bruce Kraus, between 15,000 and 20,000 people stream out of South Side bars, venues and pubs around 2 a.m. every Friday and Saturday night.
That creates public safety problems and significant transportation issues, Kraus said, which is why for the last two years he’s been working with the Responsible Hospitality Institute, or RHI, to find ways to manage the nightlife economy in the city.
“How are you going to create a nighttime economy that’s vibrant and safe and that accommodates people coexisting in residential and commercial districts where you might have disturbances from late night activity, or you might have an increased rate of crime associated with alcohol?” asked Jim Peters, president of RHI.
Over the last two years, RHI has worked with dozens of stakeholders across Pittsburgh to answer that question. Partners in the project have included restaurant and bar associations, chambers of commerce, universities, cultural organizations, and public transportation and bicycle advocacy groups, among others. The result is a comparative study of four neighborhoods with bustling nightlife economies: Lawrenceville, Downtown, Oakland and the South Side.
“This is our chance to implement what we’ve learned, and our opportunity to fly,” Kraus said.
The first step in that implementation is tackling nighttime transportation issues along Carson Street.
“What we’re going to be launching in March is a coordinated transportation hub that will make it easier for cabs to come in and cue up, very much like at an airport, and for people to line up to get into cabs, and to have it secured with police, and an expediter who will help manage the disbursement of the cabs,” Peters said.
The Carson Street initiative will be a pilot project to see what works and what doesn’t, and how transportation solutions might be implemented in other neighborhoods.
But transportation has been just one small part of the two-year study. RHI, the city and community partners have also looked at issues around development, safety and hospitality.
The contract with RHI has cost the city $100,000 a year, and Kraus is now asking City Council to approve a third and final $100,000, 1-year contract with the nonprofit consulting firm.
During the third phase, RHI will work with the city to recruit and train a nighttime economy manager, a position which has already been funded in the 2014 budget approved by City Council.
“Pittsburgh and the evolution of the project is really becoming a national model,” Peters said. “This will be the first city in the country that will have established such a position with this type of scope.”
Kraus said they are looking for “someone who understands the nighttime economy and the revenue generator that it is, and the importance of protecting that revenue.”
Kraus and Peters said the effort to manage the nighttime economy is especially important as the demographics in the city of Pittsburgh continue to change.
Between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of Pittsburghers in the 20-34 age group increased by nearly 20 percent.
The 2000 census found that 24.9 percent of Pittsburgh’s residents were between the ages of 20 and 34. By 2010, that percentage had jumped to 29.8 percent.
“The dynamics and the demographics of the city are changing, and that’s increasing the demand for more social venues for nightlife, whether it be bars or restaurants or pubs or live entertainment,” said Peters.
Mayor Bill Peduto has said he wants to continue that trend, and hopes to attract more young people to the city.
“Mayor Peduto is 100 percent fully committed to these practices and principles,” said Kraus. “Rich Fitzgerald has clearly been vocal about his support as well.”
The bill to extend the city’s contract with RHI for one additional year received preliminary approval in City Council on Wednesday, and will come up for a final vote on Tuesday.