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Board of Licenses chairman pitches 24-hour nightclub zone

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The chairman of the city’s licensing board is proposing a “nightclub district” in a non-residential area of Providence that would allow for round-the-clock liquor service and looser restrictions on items like bottle service and entertainment.

Dylan Conley, the Board of Licenses chair, wrote in a recent memo that the goal of the district would be to incentivize nightclubs “to leave neighborhood locations and move to an isolated area to mitigate nuisance.”

He proposes Allens Avenue and Poe Street between Lehigh and Public Streets for the zone, which would not have any residential properties or hotels. Inside this zone, Conley proposes, nightclubs could have 24-hour liquor service and entertainment, hookah smoking, and be allowed to serve full bottles of alcohol, which is not currently allowed in the city.

He even floats the idea of a riverboat casino, perhaps operated by Twin River, in this zone. (A spokesperson for Twin River says this is not under consideration by the casino.)

Conley says the nightclub district could be a go-to area for the region, comparing it to the Las Vegas strip.

The proposal comes as city leaders have been discussing possible solutions for violence outside nightclubs, which has become common around 2 a.m. when many of the clubs close. A recent murder near Federal Hill’s Club Seven also ramped up the discussions.

The licensing board frequently shuts down clubs temporarily following the incidents, and places restrictions upon reopening such as a requirement that police detail is hired.

Providence Police don’t have nearly enough officers to have a detail at every club in the city, however, which is where Conley said a concentrated nightclub district would come in.

“A focused area is much easier to police than scattered licenses throughout an entire city,” Conley wrote in the memo. “This should create a sort of economy of scale for safety precautions including management of common parking areas, density of video surveillance, limited exits from the area, limited access to residential zones.”

But the plan is already receiving blowback from city leaders including Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris, who represents Ward 11 near the proposed zone. (The zone itself is in Ward 10, which doesn’t currently have a councilperson.)

“Too often, the Southside is used as a dumping ground for the ideas no one else is willing to house in their own backyards,” Harris said in a statement. “While homeless shelters, social service agencies, and rehab centers (just to name a few) are all worthwhile investments, why is it always the Southside community that has to compromise quality of life for the better good?”

Conley’s plan does have the support of Smith Hill Councilwoman Kat Kerwin. She and Travis Escobar, president of the community group Millennial Rhode Island, are proposing to create a job of “nightlife mayor” who would “coordinate businesses, communities, and agencies to help the city’s nightlife succeed safely for all residents.”

Kerwin told WPRI 12 that having a 24-hour liquor license would allow for more staggered closing times, avoiding widespread calls for police service across the city at 2 a.m.

Council President Sabina Matos is urging a more cautious approach, writing that leaders should not put the “cart before the horse” when it comes to nightclub solutions.

Her leadership team is supporting the formation of a working group, led by Colosseum nightclub owner Anthony Santurri, that is tasked with finding solutions and possibly commissioning a report on the Board of Licenses that could cost up to $15,000. The proposal passed the City Council in a resolution last week.

Conley said he plans to participate in the working group, and hopes his memo could be a basis for discussion.

“All of this is moving very very fast, so I think a forum to discuss the issues is essential to successfully addressing the night time economy,” Conley said in an email.

The City Council already spent $10,000 in 2012 to hire former Attorney General Jeffrey Pine to do a report on the Board of Licenses. Conley says most of the recommendations from that report have been implemented.

Council spokesperson Billy Kepner said the working group will likely begin meeting in early October, and would “regroup and re-look” at the Pine report before deciding whether to hire a consultant to do another report.

The proposal received pushback at last Thursday’s council meeting from members who said it was too expensive.

“I don’t think this is a prudent way of spending taxpayer dollars at this point,” Councilman David Salvatore said before voting against the resolution. He described the resolution as “spending $15,000 on another report to learn what we already know.” Salvatore instead has proposed revisiting the conclusions of the Pine Report.

“Times have changed,” Kepner said when asked why a new report is needed. “This world changes at the speed of light.”

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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