Fort Lauderdale's balancing act: Loud venues vs. new residents who want to sleep

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
By Larry Barszewski

Published January 4 , 2017


As the city approves new housing to lure residents in, it is trying to make sure loud music doesn't drive them out.

A downtown building boom is creating hundreds of apartments and condominiums within shouting distance of bars and other late night party venues, while the construction of new hotels will mean more visitors looking for places to enjoy themselves.

The challenge is to get everyone living in harmony.

"I think the more people out and on the street, the better the place. It's all about finding the right balance," said downtown condo resident Ralph Stone, who doesn't want to be disturbed late at night by excessive noise from the city's Himmarshee entertainment district on Southwest Second Street.

Consultants hired by the city say it needs to pay more attention to its night scene — even going so far as to have a "night mayor" — to assure better planning, publicizing and monitoring of events, along with improved coordination between hospitality-related districts.

Tarpon Bend Food and Tackle in downtown Fort Lauderdale celebrated itself on Aug. 14 with a Sweet 16 party. City commissioners have said they won't be allowing any more events to have outdoor bands or DJs performing after 11 p.m. -- even downtown in the Himmarshee entertainment district -- because the late-night music is disturbing residents.

Jim Peters of the Responsible Hospitality Institute is expected to make a presentation in February to commissioners, who will then decide what steps the city should adopt.

Peters said the city's nightlife has a huge economic impact, so it's important to have someone overseeing what's happening and a team on the job at night making sure noise, alcohol consumption, public safety and other regulations are adequate and being followed.

Peters has done similar work around the country, including in Delray Beach, which hired a full-time night coordinator last year. His recommendations are currently under review in Orlando.

"This whole idea of a night manager, a night mayor, is something cities are beginning to realize they need to embrace," Peters said.

Peters has also suggested reducing the reliance on off-duty police officers to provide security at nighttime establishments. Instead, it may be better for the venues to provide private security while the city beefs up the presence of on-duty police officers, he said.

At the same time, improved lighting, transforming on-street parking spaces in front of entertainment venues into outdoor seating areas and coordinating events in different parts of the city can also work to make them appealing destinations for visitors.

"Hospitality zones, entertainment zones — whatever you want to call them — are economic drivers for the city," said Genia Ellis, president of Riverwalk Fort Lauderdale.

And while some residents have concerns, others are pushing for lively offerings.

"Those residents are skewing to the millennials. They want entertainment," said Tim Petrillo of The Restaurant People, which owns a number of establishments in the city including Tarpon Bend, YOLO and S3.

Petrillo is concerned developers too often are selling the lifestyle of living near restaurants and bars without warning of the reality of living near those venues. He likes a suggestion that future residences in such areas be required to have better insulation to keep noise out.

"If we don't start getting ahead of this, it could be a disaster," Petrillo said. He fears if the city doesn't set up workable rules before more people arrive, officials may overreact when problems arise and clamp down too hard on night businesses.

Nightlife is already expanding in the city, from the long-standing entertainment districts downtown west of Andrews Avenue and others on the beach, to emerging venues like Flagler Village, Southeast Seventeenth Street and North Beach Restaurants and Shoppes.

Marjorie Ferrer, a consultant who previously headed Delray Beach's Downtown Development Authority, said Fort Lauderdale's older districts were created to bring people back to areas that weren't developed yet. Now growth is here.

"Fort Lauderdale has a tsunami of influx between the new hotels and new residences coming up," Ferrer said. "It could be the beginning of an exciting time, but it still has to be managed."

Peters said many of the emerging areas — like FAT Village's warehouse art district near the railroad tracks and Sistrunk Boulevard — are places that were never designed for the number of people and kinds of activities they're seeing.

That means they're going to have more safety, lighting and other infrastructure needs. But they're also the kind of unique places that will make a name for the city, Peters said.

"Naturally, that kind of environment is also something that's inviting to that avante-garde consumer that's looking for that latest trendy place," Peters said.

Stanley Eichelbaum, president of the Downtown Fort Lauderdale Civic Association, has seen — and heard — the increasing number of entertainment venues.

"There's an appreciation of entertainment, but there's a right to quiet habitats for residents," Eichelbaum said. "Late at night, you aren't allowed to do a lot of things. And sound is one the things that has to be sensibly controlled."