By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Last month, the Downtown Development Authority hosted a town hall meeting called “Delray Beach Nighttime Economy.”
The daytime event brought together city commissioners, police, fire rescue, downtown patrons and restauranteurs to hear from industry expert Jim Peters, founder of the Responsible Hospitality Institute.
Many in the room showed up ready to dig into issues the downtown is facing at night like overcrowding and capacity and the shift that many restaurants take from serving food to transforming into clubs.
For months, several restauranteurs have been facing steep bills from the city for not adhering to capacity rules. The city says it is enforcing a life safety situation. The restaurateurs have asked the city to ease up.
The city is posting firefighters as bouncers at entry ways to monitor how many people are leaving and entering bars and restaurants. The restaurant is then receiving a bill for the service. Commissioners support the city’s decision to continue the patrols as long as its needed.
But when current scenarios like the overcrowding were brought up during the event, there were little answers or insight as to how to address them offered.
An email to commissioners from DDA executive director Laura Simon described the goal of the session to “assist and guide key stakeholders and the city in finding solutions and planning for the nighttime growth and evolution.”
After the town hall, Simon told the Delray Newspaper that the goal was to hear from an outside expert that Delray’s downtown nightlife issues aren’t unique.
She said the discussion was to help build a foundation and create a vision for the city’s downtown nightlife.
“We are at a tipping point,” she said. “We have a lot of projects coming forward that we aren’t planning for.”
The session involved Peters sharing information about downtown nightlife in general, but when it came to specific issues affecting Delray, many questions were left unaddressed.
“I was told that the goal of this meeting was to assist and guide key stakeholders and the city in finding solutions in planning for the nighttime growth and evolution,” Commissioner Adam Frankel said, referring to Simon’s email. “After sitting through a presentation for over 90 minutes, none of these goals were addressed by Mr. Peters. From my perspective, this opportunity was wasted.”
A business owner asked Peters if he felt downtown Delray had a safety issue after he showed a slide about safety and the types of T-shirts bouncers often wear.
He pushed the question back to her asking if she thought Delray had a safety problem.
At the end of the presentation, there was time for questions and answers. When a downtown property owner asked about the overcrowding issue, it was interim city manager Neal de Jesus who fielded the question.
In a follow-up email to stakeholders who attended the meeting Simon writes, “I understand that many were hoping this meeting would provide the ultimate solution for the current conditions however, as we were reminded by Jim Peters, Downtown Delray Beach is at a tipping point which fostered an extreme intervention, a forced control that arose from a system that wasn’t managed correctly and now we have to improve the foundation that we have worked extremely hard to create, manage the growth and plan for the future enhancing the building blocks of the nighttime economy.”
Simon said the next step will be forming an alliance committee that has members from downtown businesses and city officials. That was a recommendation from the presentation.
The committee would assist in guiding the process in the development of new ordinances such as hybrid or entertainment permitting, stand alone bar ordinance, venue occupancy training processes, social occupancy, and planning for the future and new districts.
“We know what we have,” Simon said. “We know where we want to be. We are missing some elements to get us there.”