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One of Orlando's newest employees talks about her role as liaison between the city and downtown's nightlife scene

Night watch

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In polite conversation, it's called "the push." When they can't sell liquor any more, bars and clubs down Orange Avenue start shutting down at 2 a.m., pushing out hundreds of inebriated patrons onto the closed street. Most of the time, downtown Orlando's main strip turns into a unofficial street party as lingering customers slowly tear themselves away from their friends and head to their cars. But other times, intoxicated brawls between drunks cause clashes with Orlando Police bike officers trying to keep the peace, creating a violent chaos. In everyday conversation, you'd call it a shit show.

Regardless of what your name for it is, it's now the responsibility of Dominique Greco-Ryan.

Greco-Ryan was hired about a month ago by the City of Orlando as its first "night manager," a role in which she will serve as a liaison between the local government and nightlife businesses. While her duties are still being identified, she says she expects her responsibilities will include bridging a higher level of communication between the city and local merchants so that they can work more closely and efficiently together.

"The city showed this initiative by creating a full-time position to specifically target these unique businesses that have a unique need and a unique place in our city," she says. "I think that this position was made to just hyper-focus on that instead of having it tacked onto another role."

Greco-Ryan's new position was the end result of a process that began with an after-hours club that doesn't exist anymore. Back in 2015, city leaders decided to pass a moratorium on after-hours clubs in Orlando, shortly after the opening of Club Nokturnal. Nokturnal didn't last long – it shut its doors within months of opening. But the task force studying Orlando's nightlife that was attached to the moratorium continued its work, broadening its scope after a gunman killed 49 people in a massacre at the gay nightclub Pulse on June 12, says David Barilla, assistant director of the city's downtown development board and community redevelopment agency.

In November 2016, the task force submitted its report to commissioners with comments from the Responsible Hospitality Institute, which advised that Orlando's disorderly scene on Orange Avenue after 2 a.m. was "not a sustainable model" for the future, especially with the future addition of 7,700 students who would be attending the UCF Downtown campus, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Barilla, who formed part of the task force, says many club and bar owners were already practicing security measures after Pulse that they shared with the larger group during task force meetings. The report also incorporated a list of recommendations that included: building Orlando's nightlife branding through marketing campaigns; establishing transportation hubs for taxis and ride-share vehicles to easily access patrons; enhancing security by increasing the police bicycle unit; planning for high-impact nights in downtown's bars and clubs like they do at the Amway Center or Camping World Stadium; and establishing a committee and a "night manager" position to coordinate city resources to the nightlife economy. A relatively novel idea, several cities around the U.S., such as Delray Beach, San Francisco and Pittsburgh, already have their own night managers.

"What we determined is that the nighttime economy is unique, and you cannot approach it the same way that you approach the daytime economy," Barilla says. "The way traditionally governments have operated to address the nighttime economy has been from a 'Who you have on it' night, like police officers. ... We needed to have someone that's designated to looking at that night economy and saying, 'Is it operating optimally? How can we service it better? How can we build better relationships?'"

The city hired Greco-Ryan for the $70,000 job from V Group Concepts, which owns several venues downtown, including Gitto's Pizza, Herman's Loan Office, SideBar and Vyce Lounge. During her nine-year run at V Group, Greco-Ryan says as the project director, she oversaw a large management staff split among 11 competing venues and worked to help them communicate with each other.

While she's still new at City Hall, Greco-Ryan already has some ideas about how to improve "the push," like gravitating patrons onto downtown's side streets instead of Orange Avenue and coordinating with merchants and Orlando Police on when to release customers from the venues, an idea which some bars and clubs already implement.

"I think public safety is something that's on the forefront of a lot of operators' minds to improve, but I think it's going to take a group effort because it's not effective if you're just one small bar doing it," she says. "We're working in a smaller city with a really concentrated row of bars and nightclubs. We're not as spread out as say, different parts of Tampa and definitely Miami, so it does take road closures and logistical issues as far as traffic, so it's something that we have in consideration at all times."

With more people coming downtown to party and occasionally get wasted, Greco-Ryan and Barilla say incoming populations will bring the demand for more diverse nightlife businesses in downtown such as breweries, wine bars, jazz bars, karaoke clubs and late-night restaurants, while at the same time trying to preserve what makes Orlando unique.

"We have room to bring in these different types of experiences and destinations," Greco-Ryan says. "I don't think we're trying to mimic any one city, but I think that certain cities do maybe one or two things really well, like Austin or Charleston, which have segmented areas off main streets that make it easier for you to catch an Uber or Lyft. We have some room to bring in more art-based events and installations that keep the boundaries of where everyone's congregating and bring a more approachable feel."

Could food trucks or public bathrooms be added to Orlando's downtown scene? Maybe, but it's all still very new as Greco-Ryan and city officials discuss how to further enhance the nighttime economy.

"I'm excited to have the opportunity to interact with all these people on both sides," she says. "That was the biggest draw for me, being able to kind of be the middleman and spearheading this on what's best for both sides."

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