ST. PETERSBURG — City leaders moved forward Thursday with a proposal to require bars to get a special permit to serve alcohol past midnight, but stopped short of requiring them to hire off-duty police officers.
A council committee voted to send the law to the full council for a first reading Nov. 19. At that time, the council could decide to add back the security requirement — a move favored by police Chief Chuck Harmon and Mayor Bill Foster.
Harmon presented statistics to the committee that showed a spike in arrests and calls for service in the downtown corridor since the city extended bar hours to 3 a.m. a couple of years ago.
It wasn't anything city leaders hadn't heard before. The issue about maintaining a safe downtown scene — and figuring out who should pay for it — has dogged the city for months.
"I don't want to wait on this anymore," City Council member Charlie Gerdes said. "We've got to do something on this."
Gerdes and council member Wengay Newton said they don't see anything wrong with requiring downtown bars to pick up some of the tab for security.
But other City Council members had reservations.
Council members Jeff Danner and Leslie Curran said they didn't want to lump all bars together. They don't want the system to be punitive to those who aren't contributing to the problem.
Danner asked Mark Winn, the city's chief assistant attorney, to come back with an option to give Harmon discretion to waive the permit fee.
Council member Jim Kennedy also said he doesn't want to confuse public safety with revenue.
But Foster said the ordinance isn't about money.
"I'm not looking at this as a revenue thing," he said. "We just need help. They're the ones that are doing well. But if it's not safe, our reputation goes down the toilet."
The extended hours permit would cost $100 per year.
Under the current draft, the city could suspend a permit if the bar provided "inadequate" security on more than two occasions in a calendar year and had a violent incident.
The Police Department is averaging about 300 overtime hours a month just for downtown security — at a cost of about $13,000 each month, Harmon said.
"It's a blessing and a curse to have an active downtown," Newton said. "With the dog comes the fleas. We have to deal with this now. This will, if not controlled, turn into an Ybor City."
This story has been changed to reflect the following correction: The St. Petersburg City Council will talk about requiring bars that serve alcohol past midnight to get permits at a Nov. 19 meeting. The original version had an incorrect meeting date.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643.