Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Politics

Council will close Tampa bars at midnight! Or not

The headlines from around the state were enough to make a person slosh her margarita or spill her chardonnay:

Tampa prepares to curb late-night drinking!

City to consider closing Tampa bars at midnight instead of 3 a.m.!

Okay, so I added the exclamation points. But seriously — what kind of sad-sack, roll-up-the-streets, Mayberry burg are we running around here? What about this city's thriving, throbbing Ybor City entertainment district, the bustle of Hyde Park, the cool vibe of the Heights neighborhoods?

Except, news flash: It's not exactly true.

Despite the headlines, at its meeting today, Tampa City Council is not poised to spoil your fun, kill your business, water down your drinks or make you put down that pitcher at the stroke of midnight.

What council members will consider is a well-meant if flawed plan to give the city more control of its bars, restaurants and nightclubs. And give them a better handle on policing problem establishments. And maybe even push a more peaceful coexistence between busy bars and the neighbors around them.

Okay, so technically the proposal would indeed change city code to make closing time midnight instead of 3 a.m. (Headline: Ybor City to shut down, become Factory Shops of Ybor!)

Except then business owners can get a permit to stay open until 3 a.m., and as long as the bar remains a good citizen, get that permit renewed yearly.

The city could also suspend or revoke a permit for specific violations like drugs, guns, underage drinking and serious crimes.

And for the record, this would not affect an undetermined number of establishments for which the City Council has already specified operating hours.

So why consider it? Alcohol beverage zonings are tough to revoke. This could give the city more leverage, particularly given the shootings at two nightclubs in the Ybor area in 2011.

The proposal also takes into consideration a less dramatic problem. Businesses with a late-night permit "must at all times be in compliance with the city parking requirements," one of the most oft-heard complaints from those who live around busy bars.

Still, council members this week have gotten an earful from business owners worried that what's under consideration means three hours less to make a living.

"With big change," says council member and supporter Yvonne Yolie Capin, "it takes a lot of explaining." And hey, don't accuse her of trying to spoil anyone's fun — she's interested in making Sunday alcohol sales earlier than 11 a.m. in the name of a proper mimosa at brunch.

So, about those flaws: Some business owners feel caught unaware. Some will understandably balk at the expense and extra layer of bureaucracy of a permit, the cost of which has not been determined. Most of all, they can rightly argue they should not suffer for bad apple bars in their midst.

The good news: There is plenty of time for officials to listen, tweak, reject outright or come up with better, more workable ideas in the name of thriving businesses and good neighbors.

But for the record and despite the headlines, this isn't about a city shutting down, just trying to deal with growing up.

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