ST. PETERSBURG — Get ready, night owls: Last call for alcohol will be an hour later beginning next week.
The St. Petersburg City Council voted 6-2 Thursday to shift closing time to 3 a.m. for bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, putting them on the same footing as bars in Tampa.
The vote was cheered by several bar owners who had complained that the 2 a.m. closing time led to a large exodus of potential business to the later closing time on the other side of Tampa Bay.
"The only thing that entices our guests to go to Tampa is that extra hour of drinking," said Rick Tellis, an assistant general manager for the Venue, an Ulmerton Road nightclub.
The new law takes effect on 12:01 a.m. May 14 — Thursday night for the club patrons. Liquor stores also will be allowed to sell alcohol until 3 a.m. They are now required to close at midnight. Pharmacies, grocery stores and gas stations, however, still must cease alcohol sales by midnight.
Council members Jeff Danner, Bill Dudley, Jim Kennedy, Steve Kornell, Wengay Newton and Karl Nurse voted to approve the later closing time. The council had been flooded with petitions with more than 1,000 signatures supporting the move. The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce also endorsed the change.
"What we're trying to do is make this a vibrant town," said Kennedy, who proposed the change in January. "Overall, it's a good thing from an economic standpoint."
"If we're a major-league city, we have to start acting like a major-league city," said Dudley.
But council chairwoman Leslie Curran and member Herb Polson voted against it.
"It's unnecessary," Curran said. "We've changed our image. We're not a city where you come to die anymore. We don't need this."
Mayor Bill Foster took a bye on this issue. When asked by Curran if he supported it, Foster replied: "I don't oppose it."
"What's the difference?" Curran asked.
Foster did warn the council that there would be consequences. He reiterated the warning of police Chief Chuck Harmon, who told council members that while he didn't expect more DUI crashes, he did anticipate more police calls to bars.
This would require more officers to work later hours, forcing Harmon to shift officers from the day shift to the night shift. He also predicted it would lengthen late night response times to calls not associated with bars by about 15 minutes.
Harmon said the council could alleviate that by spending about $1 million more for 12 additional officers to patrol later hours.
"I'm not opposed to it," Harmon said. "Just give me the resources to do it."
Several residents spoke against the change, including Theresa Lassiter. She said adding a burden on the police didn't make sense while the city is making drastic budget cuts. She also said it would lead to more crashes.
"(If anyone gets hurt) it's going to be on you all," Lassiter told the council. "You all need to think about this thing."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or email@example.com.