Colosseum nightclub co-owner Anthony Santurri knew mayhem such as the stabbings at nearby Richmond Street hotspot Level II in April – in Providence’s nascent Knowledge District – posed as potentially lethal a threat to the nightlife industry as it did for patrons.
So when the city began its latest push to end late-night violence after the incident – and a fatal shooting outside Monet Lounge in the Valley neighborhood – Santurri decided not to fight change but embrace it.
“I think Level II destroyed nightlife in my area,” Santurri said. “It became so bad that the city had to take strict action and now we need to try to reclaim and redefine nightlife here. We need vibrant nightlife that is exciting, but people are not going to come if they see violence.”
Already part of a Downtown Improvement District-led group of neighborhood property owners and residents working on nightlife issues, Santurri testified before a City Council committee working on a nightclub-safety plan.
The results, outlined in a report released this month, look inward at the way the city regulates and polices nightlife, and outward at the practices of club owners and promoters.
The goal, city officials say, is to create an environment where a wide variety of late-night entertainment and hospitality businesses can grow and stoke the creative economy Providence has tied its future to.
“So much has been [focused] on controlling the bad nightclubs and what we want to do is plant the seeds for a really strong nighttime economy,” said Frank LaTorre, director of public space at the Downtown Improvement District and one of those who testified at City Council hearings for the report. “It’s not just nightclubs, but performing arts centers, restaurants, bars and events like WaterFire.”
LaTorre leads the Hospitality Resources Partnership, a group that includes Knowledge District residents, property owners, The Providence Foundation and other stakeholders trying to improve downtown.
The first step in creating that more-hospitable nightlife environment, according to the council report, is professionalizing and modernizing the way the city licenses clubs.
The Providence Board of Licenses needs a clear, consistent and widely advertised set of rules, procedures and penalties for establishments that cause trouble, the report says. And as important, the city should have a searchable, electronic database of incidents, ownership records, suspensions and license conditions that can be shared between licensing and law enforcement offices.
The council looked at what other cities do to manage nightlife and pointed to Newport and Boston as two examples Providence could follow.
Among the challenges local officials face in policing problem venues is a reliance on liquor licenses, which are controlled by the state, for authority. In the case of the Monet Lounge, the city revoked the club’s liquor license, but it was later restored by the R.I. Department of Business Regulation on appeal.
To increase local control, the report recommends revamping and adding weight to “entertainment” licenses, which are issued by the city.
The report calls for stiffer penalties for license violations and more police officers assigned to enforce license rules.
In an even more aggressive step outside the clubs themselves, the report proposes creating mandatory licenses for party promoters, who it blames for some nightlife problems and describes as often in the shadows.
Moving on to the security and operation of the clubs, the report gives a lengthy list of recommendations that include mandatory police details for certain venues and club security at parking lots used by patrons.
Santurri expects that many of the proposals will meet strong resistance from club owners because they are bound to add to costs and restrict profitable practices.
“There is going to be pushback,” Santurri said.
Of all the recommendations, Santurri expects one requiring clubs to give attendees wristbands with the establishment’s name – a policy already in place at the Colosseum – could be the most unpopular. That’s because of the implication of club liability for the off-premises misadventures of patrons.
Santurri supports all of the recommendations except a blanket ban on underage admission to clubs.
“We already do things to prevent underage consumption and [encourage] safety,” Santurri said. “We need a place for young people to go and interact outside the Internet.”
With Johnson & Wales University expanding in the Knowledge District, Santurri said his Pine Street club’s neighborhood has significant potential.
He envisions the neighborhood, a long-time nexus of the club scene, eventually growing into a more desirable area with restaurants, hotels and a diverse array of occupants if the safety issues are worked out.
Because the report’s recommendations stretch across several layers of government, tackling them will be a multipronged effort.
Some can be implemented by the Board of Licenses, police or Mayor Angel Taveras, while others would require City Council passage of an ordinance. Others could require state legislation.
Barring minors from clubs would require a statewide change and a potentially difficult push through the General Assembly.
But regardless of how many of the report’s proposals are implemented, City Councilor Seth Yurdin said the focus on Providence nightlife has already been productive.
“A number of businesses and groups are really energized about promoting Providence nightlife and developing it,” Yurdin said. “You have this restaurant … and music scene that is cutting edge. It is a huge economic opportunity that makes this city attractive.” n