The District's booming bar and restaurant scene could make D.C. the latest city to add a new, nighttime-oriented government official.
New York City has its "Night Mayor." In London, it's the "Night Czar." In Amsterdam, it's "Nachtburgemeester" ("night mayor" in Dutch).
A bill introduced by D.C. Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) would create D.C.'s version: the director of the Office of Nightlife. The director, who would be appointed by the mayor, would act as a liaison between government, community leaders and business owners to ensure that all residents benefit from the proliferation of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues in the nation's capitol in recent years, Todd said.
"The nightlife economy is robust, and it's important for our government to have an office to lead the charge in thinking about what we should expect from the nightlife economy, and how we can benefit from it," said Todd, who introduced the bill in October.
But some business owners and advocates are worried that a new government office will mean new regulations, creating unnecessary hurdles for existing businesses and those hoping to open in the District.
"Regulatory compliance is not the issue here — while large, the hospitality community in Washington is very well-managed with responsible operators," said Mark Lee, a small-business advocate and former executive director of the D.C. Nightlife Hospitality Association. "The danger is that this will be another layer of regulatory requirements that will create an obstacle to surmount."
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill in September creating the Office of Nightlife because "nightlife is part of the soul of our city," a spokesman for the mayor said.
Music venues, bars and restaurants shutting their doors is part of what drove New York City Council member Rafael Espinal to introduce the bill creating the position.
"With years of rising rents and decades of bureaucratic red tape, the office of Nightlife gives NYC finally an opportunity to stop our cultural gentrification and retain our cherished spaces," Espinal said.
Booming business in the District in some ways created the opposite incentive to create D.C.'s office, Todd said.
The number of restaurants and bars jumped about 30 percent from 1,729 in 2006 to 2,267 in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and there are about $2 billion projected in sales in the industry in 2017. There were about 63,400 restaurant and food service jobs in the District in 2017, and that number is expected to grow 6 percent by 2027, according to the National Restaurant Association.
"We have a lot of nightlife establishments and restaurants and bars in neighborhoods that haven't been anything but residential for years," Todd said. "It's a challenge, but it's also an opportunity."
He said that in his own neighborhood, Upshur Street NW, was relatively unknown even two years ago. Today, it's one of the hottest places to eat in Washington, with several restaurants that have earned national acclaim.
The director of nightlife would work with Advisory Neighborhood Commissions to address any friction created by the influx of businesses into previously quiet neighborhoods, often bringing with them noise and trash. Complaints, public safety concerns and the enforcement of laws related to restaurants, bars and clubs will also be addressed by a commission of five volunteers created under Todd's legislation.
Members would be appointed and would include an executive at Events D.C., a member of the business community, someone employed in the creative industry, a member of the board of directors of a Business Improvement District and an administrator from a District-based college.
The cost of the director's position and staff will be determined following a fiscal impact statement by the Council Budget Office.
Lee said he hopes the office will do more than handle individual complaints, which he noted are already addressed by the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.
"We should be taking the larger view, thinking about strategic problem-solving rather than creating new prohibitions," he said.
The city can work with business owners to provide technical expertise on noise abatement and new strategies to improve public safety, he said.
A public hearing on the bill will be held Nov. 8, and it will then go to the Committee on Government Operations, which Todd chairs.