ST. PETERSBURG — If the City Council doesn't vote today to extend closing times of bars until 3 a.m., it won't be for a lack of trying on the part of late-night bars and their denizens.
Council members were flooded Wednesday with shows of support for making St. Petersburg a last-stop destination in a nightlife world that's eclipsed now by Tampa's later burning neon lights.
The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to council members that endorsed the longer drinking hours, saying that the move would boost the city's economy and quality of life.
"The extension will provide downtown businesses the opportunity to reap both direct and indirect revenues," wrote John T. Long, the chamber's president and chief executive. "This will help our city to better compete with Tampa for after-hours entertainment, keeping our residents and tourists here for an entire evening."
Last week, the chamber released results of an informal, nonscientific poll of its 2,700 members. Nearly three-quarters of those who responded strongly favored the longer hours, said Jessica Eilerman, the chamber's director of public policy and tourism.
On Wednesday, the recently formed St. Pete Hospitality Association political action committee delivered more than 1,000 signatures endorsing the move to City Hall.
"We are trying to make St. Petersburg as competitive as Tampa," said Jeffrey Copeland, who formed the committee last month. "We want people to think of St. Petersburg when they go out and party. We want to be a major metropolitan city. So we have to act like one."
It's not clear why Copeland and David Mohns, the only other person associated with the St. Pete Hospitality Association, are championing the extra hour of drinking. Neither is in the hospitality industry. Copeland says he's an air freshener manufacturer. Mohns is a Realtor, Copeland said.
"I have no financial interest in this," Copeland said. "And I don't go out a whole lot. I'm trying to change the image of our city from a retirement city to a player."
This crush of support comes amid anticipation of major openings of more bars in a downtown already filled with them. The old American Stage building is set to become a multi-story nightclub. The 19th floor of the Bank of America is getting primed for another late night entertainment venue. Drynk, a concept developed by some of the owners of the tony AJA Channelside, is looking for a standalone building in downtown. And BayWalk, the struggling entertainment complex, is expected to get some new upscale eateries by the summer.
Lost in the overwhelming show of support for longer hours are those who think the closing time should be left alone. Police union representatives say the longer hours will require officers to work later hours.
"I'm opposed to it," said Sgt. Karl Lounge, a representative for the Fraternal Order of Police. "It will only help a few businesses. What benefit does the rest of the city have for keeping the bars open an extra hour? The longer the bars stay open, the better the odds that people will get unruly and that you'll get more fights."
The condo boom also brought some residents who don't want downtown to become an all-night party.
"We think 3 a.m. would be unwise at this point," said Emil Pavone, president of the St. Petersburg Downtown Residents Civic Association. "Police resources are so limited. Is this really what we want them to do with the officers who are downtown? This isn't a good time for this."
Times researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer David DeCamp contributed to this story. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or [email protected]