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Savannah needs a ‘night mayor’ 

I’D LIKE to tell you about the concept of a "night mayor."

This is a topic that I’ve been meaning to get to for several columns now, but apartment developments and pedicab regulations kept popping up and requiring a timely response.

The position of “night mayor” began in Europe, in Amsterdam to be specific, and then spread to other cities within the Netherlands and elsewhere on the continent.

It has been used in cities large and small, but typically in places where the nighttime economy is a larger slice of the pie than is normal elsewhere, relative to other sectors, yet still may not be well understood by local officials.

As a 2016 CityLab article observes:

“Too often, public officials view their city’s nighttime existence with suspicion—as a sinister doppelgänger of its daytime form but with added sex and crime, sleep-spoiling noise, and sidewalks slicked with vomit. Even liberal politicians can have little experience with this twilight zone, given that they’re often tucked up in bed by 10 p.m.”

I think that this can certainly be said of our current City Council and professional staff, one alderman with an alliterative name excepted.

“It’s the role of the night mayor to bridge this gap ... to manage and improve relations between night businesses, residents, and City Hall.”

This to me sounds like a position that Savannah could use.

Sure enough, the “night mayor” idea has made its way across the Atlantic, and several American cities now have one, in one form or another, including Austin, Orlando, and Pittsburgh, where the position is titled “nighttime economy coordinator.”

On August 24th, two days after this column hits the web, NYC’s city council will vote on establishing an Office of Nightlife, complete with a Nightlife Director, and a Nightlife Advisory Board.

Before the words “Savannah isn’t New York City” enter your frontal lobe, let me tell you that Iowa City also has a night mayor. Iowa City, with a population of 74,398 (metro – 146,763) is half the size of Savannah, and though it may be arrogant of me to assume without research, I’m going to hazard a guess that their tourism and nightlife are way less than half that of Savannah’s. And they have found a night mayor to be useful.

That said, Iowa City does not have the complicated structure being considered in NYC, and would probably serve as a better model for Savannah.

Iowa City’s night mayor is a part-time (Thursday to Saturday, 7pm to 2am), privately funded position, supported by their downtown business association, rather than a public tax-supported office (in Amsterdam it is split 50/50).

I first learned of the night mayor concept from a PBS News Hour segment, but what brought it back to my mind was the death of Scott Waldrup in the wake of our most recent July 4th festivities.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that having a night mayor would have prevented Scott’s death, or the street violence that preceded it. But when I sat in City Council on July 6th, listening to Robert Milie deliver a list of suggestions to the Mayor and Aldermen on behalf of members of our nightlife sector, it made me remember that PBS segment.

It made me think about how a night mayor position might be useful in executing these suggestions, and in better representing the interests of our nighttime economy in general.

Here are the 4 asks:

Establish a downtown “bar beat” with the same police officers regularly assigned to it, so that they can get to know various nighttime establishments, their employees, and their proprietors, and vice versa. This will establish trust, and relationships that will lead to more efficient handling of problems at these nighttime establishments.

Allow more downtown street closures, at times other than major holidays.

Reform the current protocol that “dings” an establishment selling alcohol if they find it necessary to call for a police presence. This creates a perverse incentive to cover up problems or push them out onto the street as quickly as possible.

Here I will use the exact language provided to me by Zack Kozdron, who has taken it upon himself to better organize the nighttime sector: Establish a Service Industry Task Force Advisory Group that meets at least quarterly to address these and other issues in the interest of creating the safest Savannah.

Many of service industry owners, managers, and employees predate four and five generations of City Council ... and have valuable insights to share, not only into our community, but as to the best practices being used nationwide to enrich areas and increase a healthy and vibrant economy.

Despite this appeal to our public officials, Mr. Kozdron and his nighttime compatriots are not waiting for the City to create such a group. They are doing it themselves, and they are calling it the Savannah Service Industry Coalition.

Currently the SSIC is in its organizational phase, but already includes the likes of Melissa “Swanny” Swanson of The Rail and Harley Krinsky of Social Club and Sorry Charlies.

Plans do not stop at owners and operators though, as the group plans to represent the whole service spectrum, including dishwashers and pedicab drivers.

If you’d like more information, a Facebook page has been set up, and inquiries can be emailed to info@savsic.com.

Whoever is chosen to be the figurehead of this coalition—and I can think of a few colorful candidates—hope that they will decide to style themselves The Night Mayor of Savannah.

CS
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About The Author

Jason Combs

Jason Combs

Bio:
Jason Combs is a consultant, entrepreneur, and writer with masters degrees in City Planning & Urban Design from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is a long-time resident of the Thomas Square Streetcar Historic District.

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