Does New Orleans Need a Night Mayor?

New Orleans is governed by a Mayor, who has his own staff, and council people who represent their own districts. They deal with the everyday tasks of running our great city. But I think we’re short someone: that person who would deal with the ongoing problems of not only keeping our city’s night-time economy running smoothly, but someone who could interact with other governmental officials, culture creators, musicians, and businesses so that we continue to have a vibrant economy after dark.

New Orleans is known worldwide for its nightlife and music, and it’s most obviously an extremely important part of our economy, especially since we’re known for our food, music and festivals.

Back in 1987, when I first got involved in music activism, I headed a group that did an economic impact study of music to New Orleans. Even back then, the estimate was that music produced a $925-million impact on the city. To my knowledge, there’s been no update to the economic impact assessment of music. Imagine what it might be now? Surely, that almost-a-billion economic impact should have more serious, permanent representation in city government. The person we’ve had who has managed and assessed our cultural economy—which also includes interaction with businesses and culture-bearers, has been Scott Hutcheson. Hutcheson has worked with Mayor Landrieu since he was Lieutenant Governor and has been a member of his team as the Advisor to the Mayor for Cultural Economy. He runs the Office of Cultural Economy.

Hutcheson has accomplished a lot in his tenure: probably the most important is the creation of the office he oversees, that provides a one-stop shop for permitting, information on cultural resources, and an economic “snapshot” of the community. He’s been involved in dealing with interactions between the police and street performers, musicians, Mardi Gras Indians and more; the development (or lack thereof) of a comprehensive noise ordinance, permitting issues, and much, much more.

In effect, Hutcheson is the go-to guy for anything having to do with the cultural economy, and will remain so through Mitch Landrieu’s mayoral term. But what happens after Landrieu leaves office?

Back in 2008, there was a small conference in New Orleans organized by the Responsible Hospitality Institute, (RHI), a small consultative group that works with cities around the US and the world to improve the “night-time” economies of the cities. You can view some of their videos on YouTube.

I was very impressed with the panel of speakers and the back-and-forth discussions that I heard then and have recommended this group to the Mayor’s Office on several occasions, as well as to several business owners and other business associations.

RHI has created the “Sociable City Network” and is now also working with international cities to develop a international “Music City” criteria (surely our city should be one?)

New Orleans should be involved with this group. It’s a great source of ideas, and potential solutions and strategies to solve the problems that have an impact on bars, music clubs, venues and performers. I’m a big believer in looking to other models with similar issues: look to other cities to find out what they do, how they do it; how strategies have worked (or not), and what we can possibly use in New Orleans to solve the problems we have here that are unique to our nighttime economy so that it improves and flourishes.

Earlier this week, RHI Executive Director Jim Peters was in New Orleans to meet with a small group of individuals who are part of a steering committee to bring the RHI Conference to New Orleans in 2018. Peters has a wealth of knowledge from working with other cities and told the group that one of the more popular and effective concepts is the appointment of a “Night Mayor/Manager” who is the person who liaisons with police, permitting, health and safety, building codes, etc. In their last conference in Austin, Texas attendees were captivated by the “night mayor” of Amsterdam and another gentleman who is working in London in a similar capacity. I’ve listened to their presentations and I can highly recommend that New Orleans is ready for a Night Mayor. It can only do New Orleans’ night-time economy a world of good.