About a year after appointing its first ever official "Night Mayor," the New York Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment has released a comprehensive economic impact study of local nightlife in the city. There is a lot of information packed into the report, but among other things, it reveals that city nightlife is a major economic driver, with more than 25,000 nightlife establishments supporting 299,000 jobs, $13.1 billion in employee compensation and $35.1 billion in total economic output. Your move, daylife.
"Not only are the numbers strong, so is the growth," said Shira Gans, the senior executive director of policy and programs who led the study. "Nightlife jobs and wages are outpacing baseline growth in the city, at a rate of five and eight percent respectively, compared to three and four percent."
"Nightlife" is defined in the study—which included more than 1,300 interviews and surveys with workers, owners and patrons—as any activity between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., and divided into five categories: bars, food services, venues, arts & culture, and sports & recreation.
"A few surprises were the role of food service and the taxi/for-hire vehicle [FHV] industry," Gans told Gothamist. "Representing nearly 72% of all nightlife jobs and driving over 65% of economic output, food service really is the backbone of the nightlife economy. For taxis and for-hire vehicles, we found that 32% of all trips in the city can be attributed to nightlife - that’s over 100M rides. In some Brooklyn neighborhoods you’re seeing close to 100% growth between 2013 and 2017 in 12 a.m.-4 a.m. pickups, and as high as almost 400% growth in certain Bronx neighborhoods. So we found that nightlife drives other iconic industries as well."
The study includes some optimistic views of the state of the city's music venues: they found that Brooklyn and Queens have each seen large growth in the number of venues that have opened over the last five years. "In Queens, there was a 10% increase in venues, and in the Bronx, there was a 3% increase," Gans explained. "Brooklyn has the fastest growing nightlife sector with 5,500 establishments and a 5% growth rate (citywide is 2%). We can tell where some of the nightlife hotspots are from the section on [FHV] data: in North Bushwick, FHV rides increased 92%. In Jackson Heights there was a 68% [increase]. Pickups from the St. George Theatre in Staten Island jumped 260%. Central Harlem and Washington Heights also showed marked increases in FHV pickups."
As anyone who has watched as numerous beloved independent music spaces and bars have disappeared in recent years due to rising rents, not all the news is great: 30-40% of nightlife owners/operators said they did not expect to be in business in three years.
We asked Ariel Palitz, the official "Night Mayor," what sorts of plans her office is looking at to help those kinds of DIY venues, and help curb their closures in the future: "The recognition of 'underground' spaces as promoting and preserving creativity and diversity was one of the primary reasons why the Office of Nightlife was created," she said. "We heard from many DIY venues and promoters on our listening tour about their challenges and concerns. We are currently in the process of working out steps to establish a pathway to legitimacy that is more accessible for DIY spaces and small performance venues."
To that end, Palitz says she is overseeing a working group focused on coming up with "options for technical assistance, precedent conditional occupancy programs in other cities, and steps to improve temporary event permitting." (Palitz works with a 14-member board that advises the city's lawmakers on matters pertaining to the nightlife industry—that board includes hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow and Garufina Afro-Latina Entertainment's founder José Francisco Ávila.)
If you're interested, there are lots of data, charts and other things to peruse in the actual report below.
The report concludes with three main "strategic areas of opportunity" for the office:
Improve and Streamline the Regulatory Environment
Many nightlife operators have cited difficulty navigating the regulatory processes necessary to open and operate nightlife establishments. By coordinating the efforts of multiple City agencies involved in managing, regulating, and promoting nightlife, and by acting as a clearinghouse for regulatory information, the Office of Nightlife is well-positioned to improve the business environment for existing and prospective operators. These efforts could support a range of nightlife businesses, from food service establishments that comprise most of the nightlife sector, to informal venues and cultural spaces, which often lack resources to achieve full regulatory compliance.
Address Quality of Life and Public Safety Issues
Neighbors of nightlife establishments cited quality of life concerns related to noise, waste management, and public health and safety, especially in areas with a high concentration of nightlife activity. Other interviewees also raised concerns regarding common issues that affect patron safety and workplace safety. The City should ensure that continuing growth in the nightlife sector is met with corresponding policies and services to mitigate health and safety risks and potential adverse impacts to its workforce, its consumers, and its neighbors.
Promote Economic Development and Cultural Retention
Interviewees across all stakeholder groups expressed concerns related to costs of living and costs of doing business, which can result in disruptive effects such as establishment closures and out-migration of artists and creative professionals. Policies and services that reduce barriers to entry and operating costs for small and culturally significant nightlife businesses could help to limit displacement and sustain a diverse mix of businesses across all neighborhoods. The City should develop initiatives that promote economic development and support the retention of valued nightlife spaces as well as the people who work and perform in them.
We asked Palitz to further explain that, and help us understand what exactly the goals for the office are in 2019. Here's what she said:
We have convened an interagency working group, bringing together City and State agencies to address challenges unique to nightlife. We are also developing a comprehensive nightlife website with information and resources to assist with permitting and operations, leveraging the City’s Small Business First (SB1) initiatives to streamline permitting and inspection processes to be more fair and more consistent. We are also promoting safer nightlife environments for employees and patrons through education and awareness campaigns around consent and prevention of sexual harassment, and creating pathway to legitimacy for DIY venues as referenced above.