🎤 The future of City Beautiful nightlife

Getting to know the former nightlife economy manager who is leading the charge behind Orlando Hospitality Alliance. 

We are doubling down on our belief that getting to know the real movers and shakers in our city helps to make this a place we can all call home. This timely Locals to Know follows our last chat with Hannah Aylward at the tail of last week. Today, we’re bringing you in the room with the executive director for the Orlando Hospitality Alliance, Dominique Greco

Bonus! We are doing a deep dive about the new city ordinances from the perspective of the OHA and even a safety survey call to action! 

It’s gonna be a wild week, so hang on to your coffee, y’all.

Hey hi, Dominique! l Tag either #pulptown or @pulptown to be featured. (📸:@Orlando Hospitality Alliance)

Who are you? What do you do?

I am the founder and Executive Director of the Orlando Hospitality Alliance. Community organizer. Entrepreneur. Advocate. I’m the former Nighttime Economy Manager for the City of Orlando, and now I run the only organization in Central Florida dedicated to the “local & social” segment of the greater hospitality & tourism industry (small biz, locally owned/operated eating, drinking and entertainment businesses).

Wax poetic for a second and tell us: what brings you most alive about this city? 

Easy. My family, friends and neighbors make Orlando feel like home. I feel like I’ve grown up as a woman, while Orlando itself has also grown up as a city. The network of talented, bold and creative people I’ve met over the years collectively have impacted me so much. And that is what makes Orlando my second home — that feeling of connection.

Down the rabbit with friends at The Alice and Wonderland Experience.

Right on, so one industry supports the whole of the system to help Orlando flourish! We are all about a diverse set of options and people making our city beautiful. Tell us, what does OHA help to keep things poppin’ for us?

OHA knows that small businesses can have a bigger voice and influence in the community by being united. We’re on our way to 500 members this year! OHA is all about uplifting the local & social community and celebrating it for the real impact it makes, the efforts it supports, the people it employs, the ethnicities and cultures we’re all able to learn about through cuisine and experiences, and the collaborations it fosters! 

That’s so many businesses! So, we’ve got to ask, what are some of your frequent favs to grab food/ drinks at?

I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to be a “critic;” I wanted to be an advocate. So I reallllllyyyy try to not have favorites, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But of course, I do frequent places… Sticky Rice, Eola Wine Co., East End Market, Guesthouse, Stasio’s, Rusteak, Qreate Coffee, Craft & Common and recently Stardust. 

What’s an unpopular opinion you have about the city?

The entertainment district (and central business district/ residential area) that we call “downtown” would be better served by incentivizing other diverse business types rather than trying to diminish nightlife — thinking fine dining or jazz clubs are on the other side of that is not realistic. Offer free parking, incentivize full service restaurants, subsidize rents, add a real Starbucks, recruit retailers, add more indoor recreation, more outdoor food and beverage options, add dedicated and specialized police units, and promote downtown for all these reasons. Promote it loud. 

Dominique speaking with the Orlando Economic Partnership last November.

We’ve been hearing a ton about these new city ordinances coming to the nightlife scene. Can you give us a spark-notes version about the proposal and what it would mean if it carries after the second-hearing on March 20? 

The ordinance the city of Orlando is proposing changes the legal time limit for selling alcohol for consumption on-premise to 12:00 a.m. It then creates a permit issued through OPD to allow a business to again serve alcohol from 12:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. 

As a condition of receiving this permit, the chief of police would be able to implement a large set of safety and security requirements for any venue wanting to continue to sell alcohol after midnight. These safety measures include state licensed security, metal detectors, ID scanners, occupancy monitors, and the requirement that the business hire extra-duty police officers at $90/hr to be dispatched by the chief of police and patrol the streets of the DEA, but not to secure the business that is actually hiring that officer.  This puts the financial burden of patrolling and securing the streets of Downtown Orlando on just a few locally owned small businesses. About 30 of the 90 places selling alcohol downtown would be required to pay for officers that many of them might not even see all night long.

The permit is also revocable, so it allows the chief of police to suspend or revoke the permit of businesses that violate city code or are the site of a violation of a state statute. If it passes as currently written, it will likely put many venues that were previously operating safely and legally out of business by either forcing them to close at midnight or forcing them to pay hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars a year in extra-duty officer pay that they will see no direct benefit from.

It also gives the chief of police great leeway to shut businesses down even if they are not doing anything illegal themselves, but simply because something illegal happened on their property. In the long run, it will lead to a decrease in the vitality and diversity of the Downtown Entertainment District.

OHA had some thoughts on this, right? What alternatives are out there and how might they help?

St. Petersburg has permits for “extended hours for alcoholic beverages” that have been referenced by the City of Orlando as something they crafted Orlando’s version off of, but Orlando’s omits certain important elements like specific language on remedy and revocation process and also adds in unnecessary regulation including “discretionary authority to chief of police to…” Additionally, the evolving safety needs of a growing downtown entertainment area have been addressed in a strategic, proactive and equitable way just down the way at the I-Drive Business Improvement District.

Fox 35 getting OHA updates with Dominique outside Papi Smash

Are there any successful models out there already nearby that would perhaps fit the Orlando scene?

A long-term strategy to ensure safety (and other) needs of Downtown Orlando are tended to is creating a special taxing district (there are over 1900 statewide and 47 within Orange County), specifically a Business Improvement District (BID) dedicated to supporting the specific needs (Public Safety, Cleanliness & Neighborhood Improvements) of the Downtown Entertainment Area. 

Just look at the success of the I-Drive District Tourist Oriented Policing Squad (TOPS) Public Safety Program, established in 1992– focused primarily on transportation and safety. Not only is International Drive safe and clean, but they had the foresight to understand their district had unique safety challenges — and leverage U.S. Department of Justice grant dollars to partner with OCSO and the City of Orlando to implement a Tourist Oriented Policing Squad (TOPS). The model is out there… Downtown Orlando deserves a true sustainable option like this.

What’s a good resource for those of us hoping to understand more about what’s going on and how to be involved?

Sign up for our OHA Newsletter, follow us on social media, watch and tune into City of Orlando Council meetings, ask questions. The City District Main Street has a safety survey out until February 28 that they are sharing directly with City officials. The next business stakeholder meeting is this Thursday — OHA vows to keep you updated and if you so feel empowered to do so — and you can write or call your city commissioner or Mayor Dyer if you are not getting the responses or answers you believe you deserve. Make it a point to attend in person the March 20, 2023 City Council Meeting — it’s there where you can provide public comment and participate in your local government. 

Last up for today, if you could give any one piece of advice to locals, what would it be?

Support local! There’s so much to love about supporting small businesses. Meet the owners, shake their hands, thank them for showing up every day so that we can be proud of the colorful brand that is Orlando! Follow OHA and we’ll help you do that! 

Don’t be a statue, get involved Orlando

Know of a person or organization that we ought to feature? Send us an email to hello@pulp.town with the subject line “Pulptown Locals to Know,” and you could see their name in an upcoming newsletter!