Cops vs. clubs

Rather than doing a better job of managing nightlife, Providence tries to squelch it
By IAN DONNIS  |  March 29, 2006

LIGHTNING ROD: As the proprietor of the largest dance clubs in downtown and the Jewelry District, Kent is an appealing target for city officials seeking to thin the throngs of nightlife enthusiasts.When the Congress for the New Urbanism stages a national conference in downtown Providence in June, the offerings ought to include a discussion session titled, “The Renaissance City: A Case Study in How to Not Handle Nightlife.”

For at least the last six years, as more residents have moved downtown and into the adjacent Jewelry District — the combined epicenter of Providence nightlife — skirmishes have predictably ensued between the newcomers and club and bar owners. Critics assert that a small fraction of nightlife denizens go over the line of acceptable behavior, while nightlife defenders say the critics wield a suburban-style mentality. In all likelihood, there’s probably enough blame to go around.
Yet rather than working together to resolve these concerns, the two sides have settled into a highly confrontational relationship, with the likelihood of litigation hovering on the horizon. The current focal point is a series of hearings being conducted by the Providence Board of Licenses, which could result in the closing not just of Club Diesel, the 1200-person capacity Washington Street dance club, but also Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, which utilizes the same space and brings a wider array of musical talent to the state than any other Rhode Island venue.

Although the Providence police contend that Diesel is a trouble spot, the larger problem seems to be how thousands of bar patrons and clubgoers empty into the narrow streets of downtown and the Jewelry District after closing time on peak nights, seriously outnumbering the 25 or so police officers in the area and constraining their ability to deal with the nuisance behavior that troubles residents. As traffic backs up on the nearby streets, tempers flare, producing more noise and sometimes sparking fights.

There are progressive solutions for responding to this situation. It would take money, of course, but one way would be increasing the size of the police department to correspond with Providence’s enhanced popularity as a nightlife destination. A less costly alternative would be allowing clubs and bars (or some of them, perhaps on a rotating basis) to remain open, without additional alcohol sales, until 4 am, so that patrons would depart gradually, rather than all at once. Rather than pursuing these ideas, however, the city seems locked in a cycle of trying to squelch nightlife, bit by bit.

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