ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council moved a step closer Monday to requiring bars to get a special permit to serve alcohol after midnight.
While several council members and Mayor Bill Foster admitted that only a few bars cause trouble, the council voted 4-2 to move the proposal to a final vote on Dec. 6. Council members Leslie Curran and Wengay Newton voted no. (Bill Dudley and Steve Kornell were absent.)
The Police Department needs help controlling crowds and crime in some bars, Foster said. He said he doesn't want a few clubs to tarnish the image of downtown.
In the draft revised Monday night, city lawyers will now explore adding a requirement that bar owners be placed on probation rather than losing their license to serve alcohol past midnight.
Mark Ferguson, owner of Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill, told the council that bar owners shouldn't have to pay another fee to run their businesses.
Curran agreed. She said all bar owners shouldn't be punished because a few attract trouble downtown and require more attention by police officers, adding: "It's another level of bureaucracy we don't need."
Downtown residents have pleaded with officials to also control the noise from many bars. The council plans to take that up at a later date.
The issue about maintaining a safe downtown scene and figuring out who should pay for it has dogged the city for months. Officials say the problems got worse when the city extended bar hours to 3 a.m. a couple of years ago.
Under the proposal, 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.