Bill proposes new D.C. office and commission of nightlife to oversee city’s after-hours scene

The Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, where many clubs and bars are clustered, is among the supporters of a new nightlife bill. (Brian Kapur/The Current/September 2014)

A bill currently before the D.C. Council would create an office and commission of nightlife, a centralized group that would oversee the District’s after-hours scene.

As proposed by Ward 4 Council member Brandon Todd, the new Office of Nightlife that would work with government agencies, businesses and the community. Meanwhile, the Commission of Nightlife would be made up of five members and would advise the mayor, council and Office of Nightlife on related issues. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 8.

Brandon Todd is the Ward 4 D.C. Council member. (photo courtesy of Brandon Todd)

“Part of my inspiration for introducing this bill came from the fact that nightlife really is popping up in places where it quite frankly has been devoid, or nonexistent, for a number of years,” Todd told The Current. “And so I wanted to ensure that there was a central point of contact for residents, advisory neighborhood commissions, community organizations, as well as businesses that participate in nightlife.”

According to Todd, a thriving nightlife scene provides opportunities for jobs and revitalization, but there are also challenges that come along with the sector’s growth, including traffic congestion and potential public safety concerns. Having a mediator to work with residents, businesses and the government would help local communities, Todd said.

The bill has won praise from some neighborhood leaders and the business community, though others have questioned its value and the regulatory structure it proposes.

Mike Silverstein, a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B (Dupont Circle), told The Current that the number of nightlife establishments that close at the same time creates a dangerous situation, because of the volume of people leaving concurrently. This problem is exacerbated by earlier Metrorail closing times, which Silverstein said have sent many revelers walking in the middle of the street looking for their rides home. (Silverstein also serves on the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board but said he was speaking purely in his capacity as an ANC 2B member.)

Leona Agouridis, executive director of the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, said that there is a kind of rush hour created as so many people leave at once, creating safety concerns. Agouridis told The Current that having an office and commission is a great idea and that she thinks bringing together multiple stakeholders is the best way to solve problems.

Silverstein described the bill as an “excellent start,” and said that a discussion has been needed on nightlife in the District. Having a single coordinator would mean that responses to concerns can happen more quickly, and communication between agencies will be more streamlined, he said.

“It’s not that complicated. You need somebody in charge and somebody who will also shoulder some of the responsibility,” said Silverstein.

The Office of Nightlife would be overseen by a mayoral appointee. Members of the commission would also be appointed by the mayor and each would represent a different stakeholder group, including one who is on the board of directors of a business improvement district and another who owns a business licensed to sell alcohol.

This structure would help facilitate communication between operators and community members and regulators, according to Vinoda Basnayake, who owns nightlife businesses throughout the city, including Dupont clubs Heist and Kabin Lounge.

Because of the number of agencies involved in overseeing nightlife, business owners can struggle to keep track of all proposed regulations that could affect them, he told The Current — often learning about them only after public comment periods have closed. These rules sometimes don’t make sense for operators, who want to be able to have a say in their creation, according to Basnayake.

18th Street NW in Adams Morgan is home to many nightlife establishments. (Mark Lieberman/The Current/July 2017)

“I think that this office is going to be very helpful in creating a line of communication between the regulators and the owners of nightlife establishments,” he said.

The bill did draw a unanimous objection on Nov. 1 from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C (Adams Morgan), where commissioners expressed concern that the bill would add an unneeded layer of bureaucracy to an already complex regulatory system.

ANC 1C chair Ted Guthrie said the legislation is redundant and ill-defined, potentially duplicating work already done by the alcohol board and Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration. Guthrie also criticized the bill for not ensuring a voice for community members within the office and commission. The ANC 1C resolution said that the draft proposal does not designate any seats for community representatives on the new commission, which would consist of people directly or indirectly connected with nightlife establishments.

This post has been updated to include ANC 1C’s Nov. 1 vote.