Policy change urged for Pittsburgh entertainment districts
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Sweeping changes in policy and operations are needed to better regulate Pittsburgh's entertainment districts, according to a report that said the city may be exposing itself to legal liability by ignoring complaints about revelers' drunken and disorderly behavior.
The report by California-based Responsible Hospitality Institute was presented to city council Wednesday at a post-agenda meeting. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl agreed to the $100,000 study at the request of Councilman Bruce Kraus, who said he looks forward to implementing it over the next year or so.
"We're going to rock the boat here," said Mr. Kraus, who represents the South Side and repeatedly has sought help with public intoxication, violence, drunken driving and other problems in the East Carson Street bar and nightclub district.
The report recommended remote parking and shuttle service for South Side patrons and establishment owners; new zoning regulations to guide operation of entertainment districts; and a marketing campaign to encourage visitor safety and responsible behavior. But it zeroed in on public-safety issues.
"While Pittsburgh succeeds in so many categories and is recognized nationwide for its livability, economic stability and the prestige of its universities and medical facilities, the city falls short in one critical area: the approach to public safety for districts with dining, entertainment and nightlife," said the report, which studied nightlife Downtown and in Lawrenceville, Oakland and the South Side.
The report called for nighttime enforcement of occupancy and fire codes, both of which Mr. Kraus has demanded, and it suggested creation of a "public safety holding" center for detaining drunken and disorderly patrons on the South Side. The city previously operated a neighborhood drunk tank.
In addition, it suggested that the city consider enacting an anti-loitering ordinance to keep crowds moving along; require security training for bar employees; develop a points system for suspending business licenses of establishments that violate city codes; and form a special police unit to work in entertainment districts.
Some establishments hire off-duty police officers to provide security. The consultant raised some concerns about the use of so-called detail officers -- some cities prohibit moonlighting, citing a potential conflict of interest -- and suggested improvements if Pittsburgh continues the practice.
The report noted that much drinking, especially underage drinking, occurs at house parties. The report suggested that beer distributors be required to number kegs and the information be used to track down those who purchase alcohol for underage consumption.
"Now is the time for the city of Pittsburgh to take the reins on nighttime development. ... Nighttime social activity can be sustainable long-term if it is planned and managed instead of allowing it to evolve independently and without conditions. There is also still an opportunity to steer the South Side in a positive new direction and reclaim its legacy as [a] vibrant neighborhood," the report said.
Representatives of the fire and police bureaus, city planning department, Urban Redevelopment Authority and community groups expressed support for the study, particularly the collaborative and comprehensive approach.
"Having a plan to address the whole issue is very, very important," Colleen Walz, the city's deputy fire chief for prevention, said.
Mike Papariella, owner of Casey's Draft House on the South Side and president of South Side Bar and Restaurant Association, said he wants to work with other groups as plan implementation unfolds.
First Published December 13, 2012 12:00 am