Why NYC is No Longer The Nightlife Capital of

By Paul Seres, Helios Hospitality

July 6, 2016

Recently, I was invited by Jocelyn Kane, the Executive Director of the Entertainment Commission for San Francisco, to come and give the keynote address to their 7th Annual Entertainment Commission Summit.

Jocelyn and I have known each other since her position was created and both her and I have attended and spoken at several conferences throughout the country. All of which, have discussed the importance of a vibrant nighttime economy for municipalities that either possess one or aspire to one. We speak of what each of our cities has done to achieve a more harmonious working relationship between restaurants, bars, nightclubs, live music venues and the agencies that govern them.

After attending that conference in San Francisco and seeing first hand what has happened there, I have to tell you that New York, in my opinion, is no longer the nightlife capital of the country. The City by the Bay has surpassed the Big Apple in a very short period of time.

Let me explain what the San Francisco Entertainment Commission is… they are a city agency, located in city hall, whose sole purpose is to regulate, promote, and enhance entertainment and nightlife in the city of San Francisco. The seven-member commission has authority to accept, review and gather information to conduct hearings for entertainment-related permit applications. Essentially, they act as the intermediary between hospitality and entertainment venues, the communities these venues/events are in and the city agencies who manage their licensing and permitting.

Our elected officials love borrowing pieces of legislation from California that impact businesses financially, (letter grades, paid sick leave, no tip credit) but here are some examples of pro-business regulations, that I hope our elected officials take note of.

The 5% Service Fee

San Francisco recognized that new legislation would impact businesses financially while at the same time offering higher wages and benefits to their employees.  Therefore, San Francisco permits these businesses to add to each check a 5% service fee known as the SF Mandates Fee, to help businesses make up for the added expense.

No Community Boards

The Entertainment Commission and what Jocelyn Kane has done for that city is truly noteworthy. They have become the go between for hospitality and entertainment and city officials in a very pragmatic fashion. They don’t have community boards or block associations, who in NYC, often get to determine how an owner of a business is to operate.  The Commission not only grants permits and licenses, they are the body that will go after an operator who chooses not to play by the rules.  As a result, the nighttime economy is flourishing in San Fran as are the many venues. The operators no longer feel under siege.

We as an industry have been lobbying here in NYC for such a position for several years now but I guess our last administration and most certainly this administration, doesn’t think that it makes sense.  I think that is a mistake.

Hearings Held at the Beginning of the Development Process

San Francisco is in the midst of a housing boom equal to if not greater than New York. Everywhere you look in San Francisco, there is development, everything from luxury high-rise rentals to high-end condominiums. San Francisco Supervisor, London Breed created legislation that authorizes the San Francisco Entertainment Commission to hold a hearing on any proposed residential development located near a Place of Entertainment; empowering the Commission to provide written comments and recommendations to the Planning Department and Department of Building Inspection about any noise issues related to the proposed project. These hearings will foster productive dialogue between venues and developers at the beginning of the residential development process.

The new legislation also requires lessors and sellers of residential properties to disclose to new lessees and purchasers the potential for noise and other inconveniences potentially associated with nearby venues. The final major point the legislation makes is that no Place of Entertainment located near a residential development shall be deemed a public or private nuisance based on noise, if that venue operates in compliance with its permits and appropriate laws.

The London Breed legislation became a reality as of January 1, 2015.  This is exactly the type of representation we need as a small business community.  We, as an industry, need a fair representation in City Hall that not only has the residents’ best interests at heart, but the business owners’ as well.  If our legislators will continue to look at California and San Francisco more specifically as a road map to deal with parallel issues, then they should look at the impact of the Entertainment Commission and the London Breed legislation as well. It’s the right thing to do.

Paul Seres is Vice President & Founding Trustee of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. Paul, former President of the Nightlife Association, has owned and operated several hospitality venues in New York; everything from restaurants and bars to nightclubs and has been an advocate for the industry for the last decade. Paul is a former member of Community Board 4 where he was on the Executive Committee, Co-Chair of the Business, Licensing and Permitting Committee, and on the Parks and Waterfront committee. Paul became a partner/owner at The DL and Dinner on Ludlow in the LES in 2011.

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