On Monday, October 7, 2013, The Jamaica Center Business Improvement District (BID) welcomed members of the International Downtown Association (IDA) World Congress and the 59th Annual Conference for a panel discussion entitled ‘Quarter Million People by Day. Deserted by Night: Creative approaches to enlivening nightlife’.
The panel discussion took place in Downtown Jamaica at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center (JPAC). This location was appropriate for several reasons. Being one of the closest commercial business districts to the nation’s largest international airport, JFK, the area has seen several new developments and lots of expansion. Downtown Jamaica is also looking to increase its presence as a thriving business hub, shopping destination and a place to work, live and visit not just during the day, but at night.
The IDA conference welcomes participants from around the world who are using community assets to create thriving towns and cities. Panelists included a long list of noted authorities on using, transforming and developing community spaces. They shared their challenges and best practices for focusing on night hours, the hours immediately following the typical workday, 6 to 10 PM.
Lighting was key to creating a festival feel and safe environment. “Let us open up those darkened corners. Let’s open up the night for all people,” said panelist Leni Schwendinger of Light Projects LTD.
John Harding one of the principals involved in transforming the Bryant Park space in Manhattan to its current grandeur, spoke about developing a restaurant row in the District.
After a great meal, it’s time for a show. Courtney Ffrench, General Manager and Artistic Director of the JPAC spoke about entertainment as part of the nightlife and the culture of the District. Events at JPAC tend to be what others in the District piggyback on in order to capitalize on their foot traffic.
As such, JPAC has been doing a number of things to cultivate the entertainment scene in the District including opening their doors to extend their reach.
“We are wide open. We really believe in the outdoors,” said Ffrench. “It makes people ask what’s going on and what are you doing.”
They are also looking at bringing in comedy shows and creating a café in the performing space to support the mood of such a show. The hope is that will be accomplished within a year.
JPAC has also created residency programs that will connect artists to the space. During the presentation, the group had the pleasure of watching artist Shenna Vaughn create a work of art on model Kana. Shenna’s work also decorated the space which housed the discussion, seamlessly integrating art and entertainment into the conversation.
Regan Uriarte, General Manager of CityRib, Downtown Jamaica’s newest upscale eatery, spoke about the challenges the business has encountered during its three months since opening. The restaurant had to make room for a culture that does not go out at night. They decided to incorporate live shows from local talent giving individuals a reason to come out, which have been really successful. They are planning several parties surrounding the Halloween and Thanksgiving holidays.
Michelle Stoddart, Director of PR and Community Development at Resorts World Casino New York City, was the success story as it is the number one revenue generating casino in the country.
“We built it and they came,” she said speaking of the now two year old Casino located at the Aqueduct Race Track.
The Casino partners with Downtown Jamaica with a shuttle bus from a store front location in the District that moves individuals to and from the Downtown area to the Casino. This increases the amount of activity available to visitors. They can choose the Casino and the shopping and events available in the Downtown Jamaica.
The panel and discussion were optimistic about ways to generate nightlife. Andrew Manshel from the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, lent his expertise and encouragement to the challenge of growing nightlife which he said can be “really hard” and “takes a long time”.
“You need patient capital,” Andrew said.
“Lot of things that work, people say are a bad ideas,” he said. “Convention wisdom is typically wrong,” he said.
Regan Uriarte added to Andrew’s advice saying that what is need is “budget, for when the people aren’t coming and courage”.
Felicia Tunnah, Executive Director of the Jamaica Center BID was energized by the panel discussion. “It is fantastic to have creating thinking, visions and thoughts from individuals from around the world doing the same type of work,” she said. Felicia will be using the information from the days’ discussion to continue to improve and shape the Downtown Jamaica District.