Sociable City Forum puts the spotlight on LoDo nightlife

As anyone who's been in LoDo at closing time can attest, when 10,000 drunks pour into the street at the same time, it's like the fan just waiting to get hit by the, well, you know what.

So how do you stop shit from happening? With "nighttime economies" becoming major revenue generators, that's an important question these days.

At the Responsible Hospitality Institute's Sociable City Forum yesterday, a bunch of folks with stakes in nightlife -- from police to planners to restaurant owners and managers --got together to discuss the big question: How to maintain and nurture nightlife while still keeping it under control.

Of course, the main body that keeps things under control is the police, but the police can't be everywhere all the time. "I mean, if I don't have enough officers, we're still going to get there; it just might take an hour, hour and a half, so by the time we respond to a fight, say, the bar's already closed," said Deborah Dilley, commander of the Denver Police Department's District 6, which covers downtown. And the police can't be responsible for everything, either, like security inside clubs, or people creating loud disturbances in the neighborhood, or the mountains of trash exiting drunks leave behind.

Talk at the forum emphasized partnership: business owners working with police and neighbors to solve problems, rather than working against each other -- which had often been the case in the past. As Colorado Restaurant Association CEO Pete Meersman noted, there can be consequences for club owners for even calling the police. "As a restaurant owner, you want to be responsible, so if there's a fight, or even if it looks like there's going to be a fight, or just if there's any kind of threat, you call the police, because you want to keep things safe," he said. "But then you show up to renew your liquor license, and they say, 'Well, you had a lot of calls to the police. What's going on?' So it can be seen as a negative thing that you call the police."

One potential solution is "off-duty" officers who work in-uniform on a bar's payroll, which Denver already allows. Those officers can help augment police presence in the area, Dilley acknowledged, but clubs aren't required to hire such officers -- although that could change. In cities such as Providence, Rhode Island, certain clubs are required to employ off-duty officers as a condition of their liquor license, and Dilley noted that certain conditions -- like security requirements -- are already attached to many cabaret licenses (required of clubs that have music and entertainment) here in town.

Still, there can be issues of oversight and loyalty when someone else is signing the checks, Dilly noted, even though the DPD technically still oversees such officers and "can tell them what to do." For example, District 6 now requires off-duty officers to stay on until 2:30 a.m., so that they can help with the closing-time fallout.

What Dilley would really like to see is for LoDo to turn into an "entertainment district," which would require club owners to pay extra fees and taxes to the city that would go directly to increased police presence in the area during peak times. "We've been talking about that," she said on the panel.

Later, she clarified that comment. "Well, I've been talking about it," she said. "But I don't really see it happening. Obviously, the club owners hate the idea, because they don't want to pay the extra money."

Even if the district never comes to be, the relationship between the police, club owners and neighbors is changing. "You know, it used to be an us versus them thing, like listen, we're the cops, just do it," she said. "Maybe it was easier then."

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte