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Proposed under-21 ban, more cops at Tampa nightclubs draws mixed response

TAMPA — Ideas to put tighter regulations on Tampa nightclubs drew a mixed response Thursday.

The City Council had asked for a menu of options in response to an October shooting inside the now-closed Empire Night Club that killed a 20-year-old man and a November shooting outside Club Manilla that wounded five men.

In response, Assistant City Attorney Rebecca Kert presented a range of possibilities, including a ban on patrons younger than 21.

Tampa clubs currently can admit customers who are 18 to 20 years old, but cannot serve them alcohol. Throughout Florida, 24 cities and counties ban customers under 21 at establishments that serve alcohol, with exceptions for businesses like restaurants.

Gainesville, the home of the University of Florida, has had success with an ordinance that imposes a 90-day suspension on the ability of alcohol establishments to admit patrons under 21 when authorities make a specified number of cases for underage drinking. In three years, five establishments have lost their younger clientele for 90 days.

"They've learned their lesson," former Gainesville city commissioner Jeanna Mastrodicasa told the Tampa council. "We haven't had any repeats yet."

Another key proposal would require more clubs to hire extra-duty police officers.

Since 1995, the city has required some clubs with permitted occupancies of 250 or more to hire two extra-duty officers, but no additional officers are required even if the club's capacity tops 1,000.

Not only that, the 1995 rule applies only to new alcohol beverage approvals — once known as "wet zonings" — and only to establishments in Ybor City, the Channel District and downtown.

That means clubs that got their wet zonings before 1995 were grandfathered in and do not have to hire any extra-duty officers, no matter how big they are.

Under the options presented Thursday, the city could force clubs with occupancies of 250 to 499 to hire two extra-duty officers, and larger clubs to hire more. A club with an occupancy of 1,000 or more would have to hire five extra duty officers, plus a supervisor. The officers would have to be hired for at least four hours and would have to be present a half hour after closing.

Representatives of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and drug abuse prevention organizations supported a crackdown, but bar and nightclub owners said the rules could put many of them out of business.

"As presented, the proposals represent ultimately the punishment of the many for the deeds of a few," said Richard Boom, who owns the Dirty Shame Irish Pub in Ybor City.

"Because our capacity is 1,050, and that's what it would be based on, we'd be looking at an extra $1,000 a night, $3,200 a week, $168,000 a year," Czar nightclub manager Sandra Hein said. "We can't possibly stay afloat in this economy."

Council members, who were meeting in a workshop to gather information, took no action. If they do pursue the rules, the new ordinance would be voted on twice, the second time after a public hearing.

Proposed under-21 ban, more cops at Tampa nightclubs draws mixed response 05/24/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 24, 2012 11:58pm]
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