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Tampa moves to tighten rules on nightclubs

TAMPA — A year after business owners in Ybor City endorsed them, the Tampa City Council voted Thursday to move forward on creating regulations for large nightclubs throughout the city.

A proposed ordinance is expected to come back to the council in about 60 days and be based on a proposal to make nightclubs regulated businesses that would need to have an annual operating permit.

Nightclubs would be defined as businesses where alcohol is sold or consumed and that allow patrons at least 18 and older. They also would have to meet at least three other criteria such as collecting a cover charge at the door, having a minimum drink purchase requirement, having a dance floor or area for live entertainment, having a capacity of 250 to 2,000 patrons or advertising DJ nights, house parties, live music or similar promotions.

Nightclubs would have to hire police officers to provide security, and bigger clubs would need more officers. Clubs also would have to have at least one staff member on duty who has attended the city fire marshal's crowd-management training.

The permit could be suspended or revoked if the club had two or more incidences of crimes such as felony drug possession, violent assaults, unlawful use of a firearm or sale of alcohol to minors.

The idea of tighter rules for nightclubs gained urgency in late 2011 when shootings at two Ybor City-area clubs killed one man and wounded six more.

In January 2013, members of the nonprofit Ybor City Development Corp. unanimously recommended the changes. On Thursday, several business owners stood by the position.

"We feel that these recommendations are still valid," said Richard Boom, owner of The Dirty Shame Irish Pub in Ybor City.

But in the months that followed the endorsement, the City Council's discussion of problems associated with bars — problems that vary from neighborhood to neighborhood — went in other directions. A nightclub regulation ordinance was never presented.

"We dropped the ball," council member Lisa Montelione said before a council vote to ask for a draft ordinance that will come back in April.

Council members did not give a similar green light to a second idea that caused a lot of controversy in December .

The idea was to regulate bars and restaurants that serve drinks more broadly through a two-step process. First, the city would roll back closing times from the current 3 a.m. to midnight. Once that happened, bar owners could apply for newly created permits allowing them to stay open until 3 a.m. The permit could be suspended or revoked if an establishment tolerated crime on the premises.

But on Dec. 5, the council backed away from the idea before even having a full discussion on it. The reason: a crowd of bar owners, restaurateurs, hoteliers and others said the proposal would create red tape, kill jobs, hurt their bottom lines and make it hard to borrow money for new businesses.

On Thursday, council member Yvonne Yolie Capin, the idea's sponsor, said the city should continue to explore it, but a couple of other council members said they need more information before acting.

An estimated 2,000 businesses have city approval to sell alcohol, but council Chairman Charlie Miranda said it's not at all clear how many of those are causing problems. He asked for statistics on the total number of businesses that can serve drinks, the number with records of violating city rules and the number the city had tried to close.

"I've got to have something I can vote on," Miranda said. "I haven't seen the Police Department come here and cry foul that they need help."

With those questions pending, the council voted to schedule an April 24 workshop on Capin's proposal.

"It was never heard, and that is a disservice to the public," she said. "We're not done by any stretch of the imagination."

Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.

Tampa moves to tighten rules on nightclubs 02/06/14 [Last modified: Thursday, February 6, 2014 11:05pm]
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