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Ottawa looks to shed ‘outdated stereotypes’ with new nightlife strategy

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OTTAWA -

The city of Ottawa is looking to shake off the image as the 'town that fun forgot', by developing a plan to boost the city's nightlife economy.

A request for proposals issued by the city is looking for a company to develop Ottawa's new 'Nightlife Economy Strategy', focusing on short-term and long-term strategies for the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. economy in Ottawa.

"The primary objective of the work is to develop a Nightlife Economy Strategy that addresses the economic opportunities and challenges of Ottawa's nightlife," said Jamie Hurst, city of Ottawa officer of economic development.

"For the purposes of this work, nightlife economy is defined as the wide range of experiences achieved through leisure, live entertainment, and cultural activities, between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. It includes the food, music, arts and entertainment, as well as the sports and leisure sectors."

The strategy will be based on an analysis of Ottawa's current nightlife economy, best practice research and input from stakeholders, and provide strategies to help stimulate economic growth in Ottawa's nightlife for the next three to five years and five to 10 years.

Ottawa Tourism says while Ottawa is known for its daytime experiences, the nightlife economy is a big part of the tourism sector.

"Ottawa’s festivals, live music and performance venues, bars and restaurants, and sporting events are a very important part of the tourism mix in Canada’s capital," said Ottawa Tourism in a statement to CTVNewsOttawa.ca.

"Whether it’s grabbing a bite and some live music, or a Sens or RedBlacks game, or a performance at the National Arts Centre, we have options for a wide range of travellers. Those evening experiences also appeal to the business travel crowd and tour groups and lead to a vibrant narrative on social media channels."

Other cities that have developed a nightlife economy strategy include Amsterdam, Netherlands, Berlin, Germany, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Toronto.

Metropolitain Brasserie managing partner Sarah Chown says anything that can attract people out of the house or to visit Ottawa would be beneficial for the industry.

"We do have a few things that we do in the city for that nightlife sort of attraction, but certainly would love to see some more things come and be a little bit more competitive with other cities," said Chown, who is also the Ottawa Regional Chair of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association.

"I think about things like night markets and maybe some smaller, outdoor venues for music or arts performances that attract people to come out later in the evening."

Chown notes that several night events during the Canada 150 celebrations in Ottawa delivered a big boost for restaurants and hotels. One of the events that attracted thousands of people in 2017 was La Machine.

As Ottawa and Canada emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and look to the future, Chown says it is an opportunity to rethink the city’s nightlife scene.

"I think this is a great opportune time to be making some changes and adding in some new things to the city," said Chown.

Officials with Ottawa Tourism hope a new strategy for Ottawa's nightlife will help shed stereotypes about the capital.

"Our hope is that the true breadth and expansiveness of Ottawa’s current nightlife options come to light, partly to dispel some drastically outdated stereotypes from the previous millennium about the vibrancy of our city," said Ottawa Tourism in a statement to CTVNewsOttawa.ca.

"The plain truth is that there are incredible experiences to be had throughout the city, in various neighbourhoods and at various price points. At Ottawa Tourism, we love sharing these stories with potential visitors and look forward to amplifying additional voices highlighting what’s not to be missed when visiting."

In 2018, council approved the Ottawa Music Strategy, a three-year plan to boost music-related businesses in the region. The strategy included making city-owned spaces available for music and establish a music development officer position at city hall.

Photo courtesy: IG @avolossov

NIGHT MAYOR

As part of the new 'Nightlife Economy Strategy', Ottawa Tourism would like to see the city of Ottawa introduce the concept of a 'night mayor.'

"Tasked with being an ambassador for the industry and proactively addressing any possible concerns with the community—is an intriguing one. Using this position to responsibly grow the nighttime economy is a positive move from an economic impact perspective," said Ottawa Tourism.

Washington, D.C. first appointed a 'Night Mayor' in 2018.  The position deals with issues and regulations pertaining to the nightlife industry, and acts as a liaison between government and businesses.

Amsterdam, London, England, and Prague, Czech Republic are among the cities around the world with a 'night mayor.'  New York City launched an Office of Nightlife in September 2017.

Hurst notes nightlife ambassadors and nightlife strategies can help bridge the gap between municipalities, nightlife businesses and residents.

"There is a strong rationale for undertaking this work," said Hurst in a statement to CTVNewsOttawa.ca. "Cities with vibrant nightlife economies differentiate themselves from other places and enjoy improved job creation, talent attraction, investment attraction, economic growth, tourism and city brand building."

NIGHTLIFE ECONOMY STRATEGIES IN OTHER CITIES

Amsterdam, Berlin, New York City and Toronto are among cities around the world that have developed a nightlife economy strategy.

The Toronto Nightlife Action Plan, released in 2019, said, "The nightlife economy is the new competitive edge for post-industrial cities." 

The plan had three goals:

  1. Plan the night: Support live music, entertainment, and social culture at night that reflects the diversity of the city
  2. Protect the night: Recognize and advance the importance of safety for nightlife patrons and workers, respect for residents and the long-term sustainability of music and entertainment venues
  3. Create the night: "Toronto is a 24-hour city that harnesses the potential of the entertainment-related nighttime economy as a producer of jobs and economic growth," said the report.

The New York City Nightlife Economic Impact Report in 2019 recommended improving the nightlife ecosystem by working across city agencies to "reduce red tape; increase regulatory transparency; address quality of life concerns; and identify opportunities for investment in economic development and cultural retention, through partnerships with both city and non-city entities."

In July, the New York Office of Nightlife issued a report with several recommendations for the future, including streamlining processes for permitting, implement a street ambassadors program, promote safety, equity and harm reduction and 'elevate the nightlife culture', including 24-hour nightlife activity in appropriate locations.

Chown says she would like to see Ottawa follow Toronto's example with a 'create the night' approach.

"There are people out there that want to be out past 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., and are looking for things to do and often can't find something depending on where they are in the city. There's definitely a 24 hour market to be tasked out there," said Chown.

The city of Ottawa says the budget for the Nightlife Economy Strategy is $75,000.

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