TAMPA — City officials want to turn Ybor City into a no-begging zone.
Tampa already has an ordinance that makes it illegal to ask for money in a way that is "threatening, intimidating or harassing" or to ask again after getting a no response.
Breaking that rule carries a fine of up to $500, and/or 60 days in jail or on probation.
The proposed new rule would make it illegal to ask even once in Ybor City.
"You have one guy who politely hits 50 people in a two-hour period, it's annoying," said Vince Pardo, manager of the Ybor City Development Corp., a city agency.
No one has been arrested in the past six months for violating the existing law, but late last year about 20 panhandlers were arrested for other violations in an Ybor City sweep, said police department spokeswoman Andrea Davis.
Code enforcement officers regularly shoo beggars away from the area.
Don Barco, owner of King Corona Cigars on Seventh Avenue in Ybor, said he's not sure if banning panhandling altogether will work, but he believes something needs to be done to address the issue.
"We've had a real problem with panhandlers," Barco said. "I get accosted all the time. A lot of times, it's the same people that are doing it."
But Candy Miller, who works at a brokerage firm in Ybor, said the proposed rule seems harsh.
"They're homeless. How else are they going to feed themselves? There are a couple people down here who are mentally ill. We give them food," she said.
Her co-worker, Nancy Lindsey, agreed.
"There are other ways of helping Ybor City without hurting homeless people," she said. "The way the economy's going, half of America's going to be asking for money."
Mayor Pam Iorio has made transforming Ybor City from a party mecca into a family friendly environment a top priority. During her term, she has approved a teen curfew in Ybor; ordered sweeps on businesses that violate rules on signs and crowd control; tightened the noise ordinance and opened Seventh Avenue to vehicles on weekend nights to curb the street party atmosphere.
To lure people to Ybor and boost business there, she announced plans last week to remove more than 200 on-street parking meters and replace them with free two-hour parking spaces.
Pardo said the panhandlers make visitors to Ybor City uneasy.
Iorio's administration will now work on a draft panhandling ordinance to be presented to the City Council.
The St. Petersburg City Council earlier this year passed an ordinance that designated its downtown as a no-begging zone. Clearwater is also considering such an ordinance.
Rayme Nuckles, CEO of the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, said he worries no-begging ordinances will make it more difficult for homeless people to eventually get jobs because they will have an arrest record.
"We need to get away from criminalizing these issues and work more diligently to address the problems of employment and housing," he said.
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.