Detroit after dark: A Q & A with Detroit's 'Nightlife Czar' Adrian Tonon

The inspiration for the role was Amsterdam’s Mirik Milan. The first “night mayor” of the high energy European city was elected to serve the needs of the residents who thrive in a vibrant nightlife. 

Milan was the first night mayor in an elected role, but other cities including London, New York City, and others have an appointed chief in place who is responsible for balancing the needs of their night owl citizens. 

In Detroit, that role is held by Adrian Tonon—the Director of Customer Service for the City of Detroit and our city’s 24-Hour Economy Ambassador. 

Model D sat down with Tonon over an afternoon coffee to talk about what the future of Detroit’s nightlife may look like after a pandemic. Tonon answered questions about our most pressing concerns including improving parking and safety in the city. We also asked him if he could build a “dream night out” in Detroit, what it would be. The answer might surprise you. 

Model D Media: What should Detroiters expect as the city opens up for more nightlife as the coronavirus restrictions are lifted?  
Adrian Tonon: If we are successful in our efforts, Detroiters should expect a diverse, equitable, safe, healthy and responsible nightlife. Our focus is to preserve current businesses and communities, while creating an environment that attracts new like-minded businesses and communities. Over the last several years we have focused on unity and building partnerships with nighttime stakeholders citywide. This unity has the potential to promote a thriving night time economy for all to enjoy. 

Model D: You are commonly thought of as the “nightlife czar,” but your role isn’t just making sure that Detroiters party safely, but you look out for overnight employees and more. Can you talk about some things you do that don’t pertain to the party side of nightlife.  
Tonon: I always say if you want to see a true 24-hour economy, go to Henry Ford Hospital. When the doctors, the nurses, the janitors get off at five or six in the morning, is there a restaurant to go to? A dry cleaner they can use? A grocery store? Or the people who work in automotive and in the factories all night? They all want quality of life. So that’s really what it’s about. It’s quality of life and job creation.

Model D: Safety, particularly with some issues in Greektown, is always a priority in Detroit. How closely do you work with DPD and what are some goals for making Detroit a safer place at night? 
Tonon sent a PowerPoint presentation that notes that Detroit Police plan to increase police presence, institute strict enforcement of noise code violations, crack down on parking lot owners who allow tailgating parties, curb drag racing and drifting, and intensify community engagement.

He added: Police reform is the impetus to proactively support good and responsible policing. We strive to identify the issues with our partners and then assist in bridging night-time economy stakeholders to ensure a unified strategy while promoting change. 

Model D: Parking is one of Detroit’s biggest challenges, are there any initiatives in place to make parking easier or the city more walkable?  

Tonon provided an answer from City of Detroit Director of Municipal Parking Keith Hutchinson.  
This summer the Municipal Parking Department will launch the upgraded ParkDetroit parking application to link  public and private off-street parking together while including metered parking availability.  The upgraded application will allow  users to view pricing and availability to purchase a garage, parking lot, and metered parking in a single location.   Added features will include an event portal providing visibility to the events within the city.  

Future features include: 
·         multi-mode transportation options, 
·         digital integration of the Detroit People Mover, and 
·         a consumer parking perks program. 
The upgraded services will reduce congestion, limit pollution generated by parking activity, and enhance the Detroit parking experience.  The upgraded ParkDetroit will tie economic activity with parking and eliminate the parking hunt while promoting convenience, and safety.

Model D: Personally, you work a lot in the entertainment community and with some of Detroit’s biggest rap artists. Who are some of your favorite Detroit rappers? What makes our music scene so unique?  
Tonon: Growing up in Hip Hop, I respect those who work hard, stay humble, constantly hone their craft and have a commitment to community. Some of my favorite Detroit rappers are Royce59, Kid Vishis, Curtis Roach, B Free, T Grizzly, Iceware Vezzo, Eldrick Laron and Big Sean to name a few.  
Our music scene is unique not only because it has a rich past, but because of its constant evolution.  The amount of raw talent we have with so many artists, all inherently different with their artistry is legendary. Detroit artists have a hustler mindset. The independent artist in this scene will lay down an incredible amount of groundwork on a daily basis and with no future insight of exactly when it’s going to be their “big moment.” But that determination is the difference maker; Detroit artists will grind relentlessly to add to the culture, pushing it forward. 

Model D: If you could build a “dream night out” for a tourist coming into the city, what would it be?  
Tonon: There are so many great things to do in Detroit. A dream night really depends on the tourist’s interests. If the tourist was me, I would want to taste local flavors, visit iconic spaces such as the Motown Museum, Submerge Techno Museum, the Fox Theatre and Baker's Keyboard Lounge. I would read up on where to catch some of the City’s most authentic open mic performances or maybe check out a local artist  buzzing nationally. But to really experience  Detroit’s fabric, I would simply just hang out in the neighborhoods. Detroit is cool like that! 

Read more articles by Biba Adams.

Biba Adams is Model D's Editor at Large. She is a longtime journalist whose work is fueled by her passion for people and her native Detroit. Her work has appeared in VIBE, Ebony Magazine, TheGrio, and more. Find her on all social channels @BibatheDiva.