Ybor business community rages at idea of banning under-21-year-olds from nightclubs

At Thursday's workshop, city attorney Rebecca Kert presented a variety of different options that the city could contemplate to address such clubs. She began by answering the question on the minds of so many in the public after the incidents at Empire and Manilla: Why can't the city do anything about those clubs? She said that the state nuisance board will allow the city to go after clubs for things like prostitution and using drugs on the premises, but not other things that would seem to be obvious (such as people getting assaulted).

Among the possibilities she proposed would be tightening requirements for bouncers in a club. Currently there are no laws banning bouncers who have been convicted of felonies.

Tampa police have previously indicated that large clubs should hire more extra-duty officers.

Kert also mentioned an idea that St. Petersburg is said to be considering: having all clubs close at midnight, and asking the owners of such clubs to request a permit to stay open until 1 or 2 a.m.

But the only idea that the public wanted to talk about was the possibility (discussed at Council in early February) of prohibiting those under 21 from entering a nightclub.

Although there was a handful of anti-drinking advocates present who recommended such a ban, the overwhelming majority was aghast at the idea, painting apocalyptic scenarios of financial ruin.

Eric Schiller is the owner of Gaspar?s Grotto. He said hiring extra security is not the answer, saying that is already the case at Club Manilla. "Clientele and management," he said, were the factors that lead to violence in clubs.

Richard Boom, proprietor of A Dirty Shame on 7th, said the proposals mentioned by Kert would punish the majority for the misdeeds of a few. He said the idea of visitors to Ybor seeing armed police at every single venue would be a major turnoff for the entertainment district, something one might see in less stables areas like the Middle East.

Another Ybor business owner, Joe Capitano Sr., was particularly aggrieved. He said if some of the proposals being discussed were enacted, it could "wipe out" the Italian Club.

By 12:30 p.m. the workshop was over, and only three council members were still present. No actions were taken, and none are immediately contemplated. Unquestionably the next time there is, council chambers will be filled again.

  • Violence at the former Club Empire led to Thursday's workshop

After a murder occurred at the controversial hip-hop Ybor establishment Club Empire last fall, the Tampa City Council heard from members of the public demanding that they shut down that club. But under current regulations, the city did not have the legal ability to do so.

That immediate controversy died down when the owner of Club Empire, faced with a tremendous loss of business, shut down his business voluntarily. But after a shooting occurred at Club Manilla weeks later just east of the Ybor entertainment district's boundaries, the council then asked for the city's legal department to produce a report on what regulations it could enact to regulate rogue nightclub establishments.

But as rumors spread that one of the issues the Council was considering was a ban on people under 21 from entering nightclubs, a furious campaign on social media sites saw the Council's chambers packed on Thursday, with Ybor business owners, bartenders and patrons blasting that idea.


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