Planning Forum to invite Mayor Ravenstahl to discuss the volatile South Side nightlifeNovember 20, 2012
South Pittsburgh Reporter, By Margaret Smykla
An invitation to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to attend a town hall meeting concerning the volatile South Side nightlife, and the adoption of the latest revision of the South Side Neighborhood Plan, were the upshots of the Nov. 13 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum.
“We have clearly reached a crisis,” city Councilman Bruce Kraus said of the neighborhood’s proliferation of alcohol establishments and the ensuing problems such as violent crime, vandalism, assaults, drunken driving, illegal parking, and more.
He said he told the mayor that he would request the forum invite him [the mayor] and the heads of city departments to a town hall meeting on the situation. Mr. Kraus said there was a willingness by the mayor to attend.
“People are looking for a sense of law and order,” he said, referring to the recent rash of early morning alcohol-related incidents, like a drunken Steeler player who crashed his vehicle into several other cars and resisted arrest, and a 25-year-old man who fell three stories off a fire escape to his death.
Forum groups’ representatives agreed to extend the invitation to a town hall meeting hosted by the forum.
The matter arose during an impromptu presentation by Mr. Kraus and two representatives of the Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI): founder and president Jim Peters, and project manager Alicia Lakomski.
Earlier this year, the city entered into a contract with RHI for a study on the Downtown, Lawrenceville, and South Side entertainment districts, and recommendations on managing such hospitality zones throughout the city.
Those recommendations will be presented to city council on Dec. 12. The goal is to have a comprehensive plan to implement in January.
About 150 to 170 people have been involved in discussions on the issue, Mr. Kraus said, including city and state officials, universities, non-profits, students, and more.
“A thoroughly vented process has brought us to this point,” Mr. Kraus said.
Mr. Peters is perfect in his role, Mr. Kraus said, because as a former restauranteur and an alcohol counselor, he understands human behavior and how it impacts the hospitality industry.
The fastest growing economy in the U.S. is the nighttime economy. As councilman, his responsibility is to ensure that “those revenues are enhanced and protected,” he said.
To that end, RHI will explore the “sociable city initiative,” which maintains a healthy balance of safety and nightlife vibrancy, and supports the social experience of the city’s residents and visitors alike.
The five areas key to a sociable city plan are: zoning, public safety, hospitality alliance, transportation, and personal accountability.
Changes to long-standing practices need to occur for the plan to be successful, Mr. Peters said.
For example, “Bars are going to have to be held more accountable with their customers,” he said. Currently, there is no incentive for bars to change.
City departments responsible for occupancy, parking, and structures, such as the Bureau of Building Inspection, cannot all close at 5 p.m. on Fridays, although that is problematic because of union issues.
The drink tax, which helps fund Port Authority Transit, is troublesome in that while a large portion of the revenue comes from South Side revelers, there is no bus service at 2 a.m. when the bars close.
A detox center staffed by Gateway professionals is also needed in the South Side. Data could be collected from the drinkers on where they drank in excess, and the city could work with those establishments.
Another potential tool is a “social occupancy measure” which determines the maximum number of people that a district can support.
“More police is not the solution,” Mr. Kraus said of managing an entertainment zone.
He said a coalition is taking shape that shows how interconnected all the stakeholders are. The challenge, he said, is reinventing the city structure as we are no longer a steel industry town.
“The rules have changed.
“We have to change to match the demographic now,” he said.
Next, Tracy Myers delivered a brief report of the new Development Review Committee (DRC) in the absence of Peter Kreuthmeier.
The DRC was formed as a merger of the LTV Steering Committee and the former South Side Local Development Company’s Design Review Committee.
Among the highlights:
The CSX tunnel park project encountered a glitch as the slope is steeper than originally thought. It has set the project a little behind schedule.
Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches has plans to occupy the first floor of 1770 East Carson St. The project has gone to the Historic Review Commission, with issues expected to be worked out.
Forum Chair Hugh Brannan said while representatives of all member groups were not present, he understood that all groups endorsed the eighth revision of the neighborhood plan. The neighborhood plan, originally adopted by the forum in 1990, is the official planning document for the community.
The eighth revision acknowledges the dissolution of the South Side Local Development Company on June 30, 2012. The revision process was ongoing for almost three years.
Mr. Brannan said at next month’s meeting he wants to look at organizational restructuring and how it will go into effect, such as who will serve on the new committees.
The revision consists of a collection of statements the committee believes as a neighborhood are important, and which organization will take the lead in implementation.
Another important distinction from prior revisions is the recommendation to form standing committees to deal with some issues, such as the DRC and the Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) which are already in existence.
To a question of why the latter is still in existence when Mr. Kraus stated he would not support formation of a NID in the South Side Flats, Mr. Brannan said the document adopted by the forum advocating its formation was transmitted to city officials. There has been no formal response.
Ms. Myers said the NID committee should stand under courtesy of a response.
Attendees are encouraged to bring donations of non-perishable food items or new, unwrapped toys for the organization’s holiday collection drive.
The next forum meeting will be on Dec. 11.