After Hours Ambassador Jenna Whiteaker, left, Executive Director of Downtown Bloomington Inc. Talisha Coppock, middle, and Special Events and Catering Manager Zach Rody, right, share a laugh Aug. 2 while discussing downtown business. (Rich Janzaruk / Herald-Times)
After Hours Ambassador Jenna Whiteaker, left, Executive Director of Downtown Bloomington Inc. Talisha Coppock, middle, and Special Events and Catering Manager Zach Rody, right, share a laugh Aug. 2 while discussing downtown business. (Rich Janzaruk / Herald-Times)
Jenna Whiteaker’s new job as Bloomington’s first after-hours ambassador — modeled after Amsterdam’s nactburgemeester and a number of other cities’ night mayors — started out with a vague description.

Cities all over the world call it something different: nighttime economy manager, nightlife business advocate, night czar. Many of the titles are misnomers, and though Whiteaker has served as the city’s after-hours ambassador for a little over a month now, she’s still zeroing in on what her job will be. A typical night in the downtown may include trying a plate of famous fries at Farm for a future restaurant recommendation, or giving a person experiencing homelessness a referral to Amethyst House for addiction recovery services.

“It’s not just walking around. It’s finding solutions to everyday problems. I’m working, I’m looking, I’m documenting,” Whiteaker said. “It’s a lot of research, digging into those higher-level and maybe longer-term problems.”

The city’s Safety, Civility and Justice Task Force issued a report in 2017 recommending an increased “official presence” along East Kirkwood Avenue and the surrounding downtown. The plan was to supplement law enforcement with a city official who could obtain information and evaluate costs for increased block-by-block safety, cleaning, hospitality and other outreach services.

People experiencing homelessness, drug addiction, mental illness or sometimes all three were camped along East Kirkwood Avenue that summer. Their presence disrupted the typical tranquility that befalls the downtown any time the city’s 40,000 students are away for the summer, and residents looked to the city for answers.

Mayor John Hamilton responded by asking for $325,000 in the 2019 budget to hire another uniformed officer and create four new positions dedicated to public safety. The city has since hired two neighborhood resource specialists and a social worker to fill the new positions, but the job that raised the most eyebrows was the one they initially called the night mayor.

Origins of the night mayor

Jim Peters, president of the Responsible Hospitality Institute, said his nonprofit has helped more than 70 cities tackle the friction between nightlife activities and daytime operations through conferences, webinars, events, resources and consultation services.

“Cities have to recognize the yin and yang duality of everything. You have a daytime economy, and a nighttime economy,” Peters said. “They’re actually opposing forces.”

The way cities approach that challenge has changed over the decades. Peters said in the early 1980s, the solution to drunken driving was to require waitstaff to both sell and limit how many drinks a customer has. That inherent conflict demonstrates how, more often than not, government officials plan for when the sun is out, he said.
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