Two draft ordinances that might have rolled back the hours that bars, nightclubs and restaurants in Tampa could serve alcohol — from the current 3 a.m. back to midnight — died at today's Tampa City Council meeting.
The 5-2 vote against even convening a workshop on the matter came after the board received an overwhelmingly negative response from members of the public who spoke out today. Only Yolie Capin and Mary Mulhern supported moving forward.
Though the media and the audience were focused on the potential loss of prime business hours for local establishments, Council members said they regretted how the issue had been communicated to the masses. Per today's meeting, the original intent was simply to put some common sense regulations into law that would provide the city leverage over bad business owners who were causing problems. Specific motivation came after there was anger and frustration throughout the city that no one had the authority to shut down Ybor City's Club Empire in the fall of 2011 after a shooting incident left one man dead and another wounded. It was not the first time violence had occurred there.
If the ordinances had passed, club, bar and restaurant owners would have been required to purchase a permit that would have allowed them to continue serving alcohol from midnight until 3 a.m. Having the permit would give the city control over those clubs, so if incidents like fights, underage drinking or other violations were reported at a bar, the city could always deny the bar's request to have its permit renewed.
Although Ybor City was the original epicenter of the problems that initiated the discussion, it's the intense concentration of bars and restaurants along South Howard Avenue that has been a major concern of council members like Capin and Mulhern, who said on Thursday that she's seen her neighborhood transform itself into a bar district in recent years.
But Mulhern cautioned a concerned public that "every bar that is now open later than midnight would be grandfathered in and would not lose" their ability to serve drinks until 3 a.m. "No one is going to lose their rights and hours that we have if we passed this. I think people need to understand that."
Councilman Mike Suarez fell back on quoting the 1967 Paul Newman film Cool Hand Luke. "What we have here is a failure to communicate," he admitted, saying that the draft ordinance that the city's legal department composed had a lot of "different issues" that the council had previously not discussed.
Bar owners and Ybor denizens packed Council chambers to speak out on the ordinance. Walter Aye with the Ybor City Development Corporation called the ordinances a "sweep regulation which imposes a fine on people whether they’ve done anything or not."
"I think the ordinance is a bad approach," opined Ron Rotella from the Westshore Business Alliance. "It's bad for business."
Many other speakers said cutting back the hours for selling alcohol would hurt bartenders, waiters and others who are not exactly thriving in this post-recession economy.
Councilman Frank Reddick said that the tone of the public hearing had compelled him to not even want to support holding a workshop on the issue in two months. "We got council members who want to be cops with uniforms," he proclaimed, adding that he wanted to kill the ordinance outright.
That offended Capin, who reminded him that in fact there was no real ordinance to vote up or down on (the proposal was a draft). She also scoffed at the idea that the council never advises local businesses how run their shops, referring specifically to ordinances on minority hiring.
Council Chairman Charlie Miranda voted with the majority against holding a workshop on the proposal on Feb. 27. However, after the vote he immediately announced that he wanted Capin to convene a task force to start over on creating a proposal to deal with establishments that serve alcohol. Capin said she would do so, but not until after the new year because she will be dealing with a medical situation in the coming weeks. (Capin did not elaborate.)
In an ironic twist referred to by Council member Lisa Montelione, the debate took place exactly 80 years to the day since the repeal of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that banned the sale of alcohol in the U.S.