Now what the city needs is a little more nightlife.
And it’s a 180-degree change for a city that was once considered a party town because of Buckhead. For years, visitors flocked to the city because of the area’s nightlife, with clubs staying open until 3 a.m. and some operating 24 hours. The city also was notorious for its adult entertainment, though officials never boasted that attribute.
Moves to curtail hours and efforts to revitalize Buckhead with high-end development have effectively killed its party reputation.
Earlier 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.”
Keeping conventioneers coming is critical to Atlanta’s $11.4 billion tourism industry. Conventioneers’ dollars keep hotels and restaurants full and help keep businesses like florists, caterers and linens suppliers operating.
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.
While nightlife downtown is not as pervasive as it was in Buckhead during the area’s heyday, it is not nonexistent. Several clubs operate at Underground Atlanta, and the Tabernacle brings throngs of concertgoers to the area on a regular basis. A handful of restaurants also has become popular at night.
Still, much of the city’s inner core is deserted after the business day is done, adding to the perception that downtown is dangerous. In addition, metro Atlanta has more than one urban center, which gives investors in nightlife many options beyond downtown.
“These are some of the things we are confronting,” Bell said.
There are signs of hope, the leaders said. The city is doing more to address the panhandling issue, which has bedeviled Atlanta for years.
Undercover police officers are making more arrests of panhandlers and hospitality officials are working harder to educate visitors about the problem in advance. And more residential units are being built downtown, such as Atlanta-based Novare Group’s Twelve Centennial Park and the condominium component of the new W Hotel downtown.