This past Tuesday, October 18, the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High-Risk Drinking held a town hall style meeting at the new, nearly open, and fabulous AmherstWorks in downtown. The event, "Envisioning a Safe and Vibrant Nightlife Locally: It's Your Turn to Speak Up!" was funded by a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Adminstration or SAMHSA as part of their Communities Talk series on prevent underage drinking.
The event was divided into 3 components - a panel, breakout sessions, and an open discussion among the 40 or so in attendance. Moderated by former Amherst Select Board chair and past CCC member, Stephanie O'Keefe, the panel included Anthony Vitale, UMass Amherst Student Government Association president; Sarah la Cour, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District; George Myers, general manager of both the Amherst Cinema and The Quarters in Hadley; and Sally Linowski, Associate Dean of Off-Campus Student Life and Community Education.
Notable attendees included Amherst Select Board chair, Alisa Brewer; Select Board members, Andy Steinberg and Connie Krueger; Amherst Town Manager, Paul Bockelman; Hadley Select Board chair, Molly Keegan; Amherst Area Chamber executive director, Tim O'Brien; and State Representative-elect, Solomon Goldstein-Rose. Best of all, seven students attended the meeting and provided their key input.
A blue-sky visioning session, our fearless moderator instructed the crowd to think as broadly as possible and, for this exercise, to ignore impediments that might impede ideas like zoning or cost. Among some of the suggestions were events like a Big Dinner, closing off the street and having dinner on a gigantic table. Others involved utilizing 'hidden' outdoor spaces like parking lots and pocket parks for small, dynamic events. And all four groups wanted to see a bowling alley in the Amherst area's future.
Stephanie O'Keeffe suggested that it would be good to inventory events spaces for student rental. We were happy to interject here and note that this has been started already, as part of the UTAC Culture, Arts & Living committee. More on that soon!
Following the meeting, the CCC plans to issue a survey to those who came to the Town Hall, followed by a report with recommendations and possible next steps. We're quite confident that the Office of External Relations, working with our partners at the BID, Chamber, and UTAC will be able to implement some of the ideas generated at the meeting over the next few months and inspire students, year-round residents, and other organizations to assist in our safe and vibrant nightlife goals.