ST. PETERSBURG — After months of debate, the City Council has enacted a law to help stem late-night issues at downtown bars.
The citywide law will require bars or restaurants that want to stay open and serve alcohol past midnight to apply for a $100 permit. A permit can be suspended for myriad reasons, including providing "inadequate" security on more than two occasions in a calendar year or having a violent incident.
The City Council voted 6-2 Thursday to approve the ordinance. Chairwoman Leslie Curran and Wengay Newton voted no.
The city will send mailers to bars and restaurants in the next few weeks and will give them until the end of January to apply without being cited.
The new law, Curran said, unfairly targets businesses that don't cause problems outside the downtown core. "We need to focus on the bad apples that refuse to do anything," she said.
Mayor Bill Foster disagreed.
The law, he said, will give police an extra tool to deal with the bars that refuse to cooperate with police about security.
"We need to make sure we have a safe and prosperous downtown," Foster said.
The Police Department is averaging 300 overtime hours a month just for downtown security at a cost of about $13,000 each month, officials said.
One bar owner opposed the proposal during Thursday's public hearing.
Matt Donahue, owner of Push Ultra Lounge on Third Street S, told the council that his 5-year-old club has raised thousands of dollars for charities and employs 25 people.
"This will put another burden on me to stay open," he said.
Police records show that officers have handled 125 incidents since January 2009 at the club, the second highest in the city.
The issue about maintaining a safe downtown nightlife — and figuring out who should pay for it — has dogged the city ever since leaders extended bar hours to 3 a.m. a few years ago. A series of incidents, including a shooting, prompted more discussion.
In May, bar owners, police and city officials started talking. They planned to revisit the issue in July with hopes of bringing something before the council. It was put on hold because of the Republican National Convention.
Businesses that cause problems will have to deal with the consequences if they break the law, said council member Steve Kornell. At his urging, the group amended the law to block individuals from simply switching corporate names to skirt requirements.
Mark Puente can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.