Atlanta mulls impact of its ‘boring’ nightlife

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imageHere’s a news story rife with irony.

The city of Atlanta, mired in a budget deficit and hurting to keep its hospitality industry afloat during a recession, now says its lacks a nightlife attractive enough to keep out-of-town guests coming back. To be completely accurate, it’s the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau telling folks that downtown needs an after-hours component.

Kind of ironic, since it was the current City Hall administration, Buckhead business leaders and others — including a few Midtown residents bordering on homophobic and racist — that shuttered over the last several years much of what used to be a vibrant and fun nightlife in the city. Now, those actions are coming to haunt them as convention-goers, which help feed the hospitality industry key to Atlanta’s economy, are turning to places with better 24/7 options.

This month, William Pate, incoming president of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, told members of the board of the Georgia World Congress Center that the city is well-positioned to win convention business because of such assets as the convention center, some of the most affordable room rates in the country and more awareness of the cultural activities offered here.

But downtown, where most of the conventions take place, is missing the after-hours component.

“We are doing very well on the business end of things, but don’t have enough nightlife,” he said. “Our attendees are telling us they are bored with Atlanta.”

Bored, eh? That wasn’t the case before the Atlanta City Council shortened pouring hours in 2003, though it did exclude Underground Atlanta — which the city owns — from that and later allowed open containers only on that site. Buckhead civic leaders also pushed out the sometimes rowdy clubs that made that upscale locale well known for its nightlife. All this, and other efforts by City Hall, came as a shotgun solution to handful of nightlife-related issues that really needed more of a scalpel approach.

(An interesting side note: Pale’s blunt comment is included in the version of the article that appears on Page One of today’s print version of the AJC and the print archives online, but not in the online version being teased on the main page of the AJC’s web page this morning. Makes you wonder if his comments might be a little too brash for some civic boosters? It could be another sign of the sensitivity of the nightlife issue.)

So some civic leaders are now pushing for more late-night options downtown, where many hotels are filled with convention attendees looking for something to do.

Both ACVB and GWCC board members agreed that getting nightlife downtown is easier said than done. To attract after-hours hotspots, more residents will have to move downtown and suburbanites, many of whom view the area as unsafe, will have to visit more frequently than an occasional sporting event.

Otherwise, said GWCC board member Tom Bell, the businesses will have to rely on convention traffic, which is not the best plan for a bottom line. For instance, 75 percent of sales for some downtown restaurants come from visitors.

“It just really doesn’t work,” said Bell, head of developer Cousins Properties, which moved its headquarters from Cobb County to downtown to help revitalize the area.

I’d laugh at the bind the city put itself in, but I’m still left with few good nightlife options.

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