Beach cities appear to be split over a county proposal to allow bars and restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages until 3 a.m.
"I was a cop for 31 years and there is not much good that happens after 2 a.m.," said North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen, who has informed the county that his town will not allow its restaurants and bars to remain open past 2 a.m.
In contrast, Gulfport is all in favor of the change.
"Our police department feels there would be little difference. They would have the same issues at 3 a.m. that they have now at 2 a.m.," said Gulfport City Manager Jim O'Reilly. "Our concern is our proximity to St. Petersburg. We want our establishments to be able to compete."
Last month, St. Petersburg changed its closing hour to 3 a.m. in order to better compete with establishments in Tampa, where bars and restaurants currently close at 3 a.m.
That action subsequently prompted the county to consider applying the 3 a.m. closing time countywide.
The County Commission is slated to debate extending its countywide 2 a.m. closing hour to 3 a.m. at its July 27 meeting.
Commission Chairman Karen Seel said she hopes to collect opinions from all 23 of the county's municipalities before that meeting.
"If the board were to approve this change, it would establish countywide uniformity," Seel said in an e-mail to city and town officials.
St. Pete Beach appears poised to change its 2 a.m. closing time to 3 a.m. without waiting for the county. Last week, the City Commission instructed its attorney to prepare an ordinance extending bar hours and bring it to the commission's July 13 meeting.
"We are at a serious disadvantage," said Steve Phalor, co-owner of the Riptides bar on Blind Pass Road.
He told the commission that "more restrictive hours actually exacerbate the drinking problem" by encouraging his patrons to drive to St. Petersburg bars after he closes at 2 a.m.
"An ordinance would be our answer to the county that we are in agreement with changing the hours," said Commissioner Al Halpern.
South Pasadena commissioners are not sure anyone in their town really wants to drink until 3 a.m., but has no objection to the change, City Attorney Linda Hallas said.
"They are not opposed and feel it is better to be consistent countywide and safer if drinkers just stay at one place," Hallas said.
The proposed county ordinance allows individual cities and towns to opt out and keep "more restrictive" hours, which is what several communities plan to do.
"If the county goes to 3 a.m., we will keep our closing hour at 2 a.m.," says Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence. "Our police department does not feel extending bar hours is in the public interest. They feel it will only lead to more late drinking, DUIs and alcohol-related accidents."
Indian Rocks Beach commissioners will probably opt out as well, according to City Manager Chuck Coward.
"It is not a major issue to them, but they don't think they would implement it here. Noise is more of an issue for us," said Coward.
Redington Beach, Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore have no bars or restaurants that serve alcohol and are not affected.
Treasure Island, Madeira Beach and Redington Shores have yet to fully debate the issue.
A survey conducted by the Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce yielded diametrically opposing responses from citizens and business owners.
Most citizen members surveyed were opposed to extending bar hours.
However, most Treasure Island businesses favor the change - and even would like Sunday morning opening times moved an hour earlier to 10 a.m., as is now allowed in nearby Madeira Beach.
The Treasure Island commission was split on the county's proposed change during a discussion at its June 15 workshop. Commissioners plan to debate the issue again at their July 6 workshop.
Madeira Beach will consider the issue at a July 6 workshop.
Redington Shores has yet to schedule a discussion.