- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Contrary to what some may surmise, the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture is not “a party planning office, or a promoter’s office, where we kind of just throw really dope events,” says Shawn Townsend, the office’s first ever director.

Instead, the office seeks to erase longstanding friction between the city’s government and its nightlife community by developing better relationships among businesses, their neighbors and the city workers who serve them, Mr. Townsend said.

“This work that we do is all in support of the mayor’s initiative to keep our nightlife thriving and fun, but also safe,” he said.

Since November, Mr. Townsend spends his days working with agencies and attending community events, and his nights talking with business owners and meeting with police to discuss recurring issues of safety and noise, and how to resolve them.

Last month, his office organized a training day for members of the nightlife industry at which eight agencies hosted sessions to educate people on topics such as how to respond to an active shooter incident and how to avoid a Health Department violation in the kitchen.

He holds roundtable discussions and meetings for stakeholders from specific neighborhoods, like the H Street Corridor, or for certain kinds of establishments, like night clubs, to discuss issues specific to them like the D.C. Streetcar and fake IDs.

Sometimes, Mr. Townsend becomes a mediator between a business owner and a resident.

Ian Reid, owner of Po Boy Jim’s, called Mr. Townsend when he received noise complaints from a neighbor whose bedroom shares a wall with his restaurant.

Mr. Reid needed to soundproof his walls but couldn’t afford it. The nightlife and culture director found a little-known grant the restaurateur could apply for to cover the cost.

But after the soundproofing was installed, the neighbor still complained about the restaurant’s music pulsating through the wall. Mr. Townsend persuaded the neighbor to agree to a volume test to determine an acceptable level.

Mr. Townsend says he became curious about the nightlife position when D.C. Council member Brandon Todd, Ward 4 Democrat, introduced the legislation that created the office in 2017.

The legislation also created a 15-person commission of stakeholders in the nightlife, arts and culture industries to identify trends and ultimately make policy recommendations.

“There were some folks who wonder why I was chosen for this position with my enforcement background, but about once a week I help someone with the information I learned,” Mr. Townsend said.

Before his current gig as nightlife director, he served as an investigator for the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration for four years. That job required him to listen to the concerns of the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and business owners and resolve their differences.

He jokes that he was extra motivated to find a solution so he wouldn’t have to write a report and submit it to ABRA.

Before he worked for D.C. government, Mr. Townsend opened a restaurant and bar with his dad in South Carolina, and he says that experience influences how he approaches the job.

“I understand what it feels like to go through an inspection, that anxiety, nervousness,” he said.

Although the culture aspect isn’t the main focus of the legislation that created his office, it is a priority for Mr. Townsend.

For example, he is working with activists to make sure that go-go music is a part of the city’s culture and history.

Early this year, a T-Mobile store in the Shaw neighborhood received noise complaints from a resident of a nearby apartment building because the go-go music it played outside was too loud. Residents held protests to show support for the D.C. cultural staple.

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