Business - July 29, 2017

Orlando hires ‘night manager’ to oversee nightlife scene

City officials and nightclub owners alike call it “the push” — starting around 2 a.m., downtown Orlando’s bars and clubs direct their Friday and Saturday night customers toward the exits, often creating a chaotic scene outside.

As a veteran of downtown Orlando nightlife, Dominique Greco Ryan has seen how a night of having fun can unravel to conflict or even violence, thanks to the combustible mix of alcohol and crowds.

“Dealing with people who are celebrating, who are partying … sometimes there’s a fine line there,” she said. “Too much of a good thing is not a good thing.’’

Greco Ryan, 28, was hired this month as Orlando’s first “night manager,” a position created to serve as the downtown nightlife industry’s point person at City Hall, with the aim of improving public safety and communication.

The job emerged from a task force convened in December 2015, months before 49 people were killed in the Pulse nightclub massacre, renewing public awareness of nightlife safety issues.

The city also commissioned a study by the Responsible Hospitality Institute, which said the city’s nightlife status quo — in which clubgoers flood the streets after last call without clear guidance on how to get home safely — is “not a sustainable model” for the future.

While guiding that future is a tall task, Greco Ryan has the experience and connections for the job, said Thomas Chatmon, executive director for the city’s Downtown Development Board.

“She really does know the industry here, from the ground level,” he said. “In that way, she hits the ground running.’’

It’s too soon to say what Greco Ryan’s specific priorities will be, Chatmon said, but she’ll be meeting with industry leaders to gather input on everything from food and entertainment to parking — and likely working some late nights.

Fights and shootings outside downtown clubs still prompt regular headlines in Orlando. Police stepped up patrols downtown last year after Richard Burgos, 23, was gunned down on Central Boulevard in the early hours of Nov. 27. A week earlier, shots were fired near The Beacham club on Orange Avenue, but no one was injured.

The chaotic environment can also result in club-goers clashing with police. A 2016 investigation by the Orlando Sentinel found a third of all incidents in which Orlando police used force occurred downtown, while one in five force cases occurred between midnight and 3 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Violent incidents can damage the public’s perception of downtown, something the nightlife industry struggles with, Greco Ryan said.

“It can be a bit of an uphill challenge because there is crime associated with nightlife, so you get that reputation that you’re always fighting against as … an operator in the hospitality/nightlife sector,” she said.

A native New Yorker, Greco Ryan grew up in New Port Richey. She came to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida, graduating in 2012 with a degree in event management.

“I ended up in hospitality, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Greco Ryan, who added that she has worked “every position that you could imagine” in a bar, club or restaurant. “I love it. I enjoy the element that I get to work with people.”

Before being hired by the city, Greco Ryan worked as projects director for V Group Concepts, which operates hospitality and entertainment venues downtown, including the speakeasy Hanson’s Shoe Repair, Gitto’s Pizza and SideBar Orlando.

“I think she’ll do a great job,” said V Group owner Jeff Gitto. “She was an excellent part of our team, and losing her is kind of a big deal, but it was for the greater good of the city. I’m very, very supportive of it.”

In addition to creating the night manager position, which pays $70,000 a year, Orlando is also creating a Nighttime Economy Committee of city and industry officials, which will work with Greco Ryan to identify problems and possible solutions.

Set to meet for the first time in the next several weeks, the group will play a key role in setting the city’s nightlife goals, Chatmon said. “They’ll bring a litany of things that need to be addressed and then it will be a matter of prioritizing those things,” he said.

Suggestions laid out by the city’s task force included establishing transit hubs to connect clubgoers with a ride home; expanding the Orlando police bicycle unit; and overseeing nightlife similarly to how major events at the Amway Center or Camping World Stadium are handled.

“I think the position will advance downtown, in that the city will have a point person that will be able to manage all of the impacts of the nighttime economy,” Doug Taylor of Church Street Entertainment, which owns the downtown bars Chillers, Cahoots and Lattitudes.

In addition to making downtown Orlando safer for those who already visit, Chatmon said the city hopes to expand its downtown clientele, which currently skews young, especially after dark.

“We brag on the fact that we have vibrancy at night. We want to continue to have vibrancy, but we’d like to grow that market and broaden that demographic,” he said. “In order to do that, we learned some time ago that a change needed to be made.”

Making downtown feel safer and more comfortable is key, he said.

“We know that violence turns off everybody,” he said. “We get that. We’re not immune to that. We’re not blind to that.”

City Commissioner Jim Gray, who has expressed concerns about the saturation of bars in the city’s core, said he’s optimistic Greco Ryan’s hiring is a step toward a safer downtown with a broader range of entertainment.

“We’re one-trick ponies,” he said. “We’ve got bars and, at 2 o’clock, when those bars close, we’ve got issues.”, 407-420-5171 or @JeffWeinerOS on Twitter

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