TAMPA — It worked.
That was the message delivered to City Council members by City Attorney Gina Grimes before Monday’s hearing involving suspensions of alcoholic beverage permits for five bars and nightclubs that violated city and county coronavirus restrictions.
“We believe the strong enforcement action that City Council has taken in the previous cases definitely had the effect that was intended,” Grimes said.
City code inspectors have seen nearly 100 percent compliance in the city with mask and social distancing rules over the last several weekends, she said. Council members began the liquor sales suspension hearings in mid-February.
The city’s strong stance — it was the only city in the region, perhaps the state to go after the ability of bar and nightclub owners to sell alcohol — was effective, Grimes said, pointing toward the remaining five establishments’ decisions to reach settlements with the city.
Those settlements varied.
Two Ybor City businesses, the Ritz Ybor at 1503 E. 7th Ave., and King Corona Cigars Bar and Cafe at 1523 E. 7th Ave., escaped any sanctions, as city attorneys argued their violations were less serious and they had adopted adequate safety plans.
On the other end of the spectrum was Club Prana, 1619 E. 7th Ave., which negotiated a seven-day suspension of its ability to sell alcohol. The suspension will run between April 5 and April 12.
The club’s lawyer, Luke Lirot, who proposed the offer, asked that the council lessen the penalty to a three-day suspension, which had been the longest suspension handed out to that point by council members.
Lirot said it was important the city “maintain some consistency” in its punishments and that the club was “looking for equity and fairness.”
But council members voted 5-1 to accept the city attorney’s argument that seven days was appropriate because the club had been found in violation of coronavirus orders three times.
Luis Viera voted against the seven-day suspension, arguing the city should shave the suspension by a few days. Council member John Dingfelder was absent Monday.
That vote on Club Prana was the only one that was not unanimous.
MacDinton’s Irish Pub, 405 S. Howard Ave., and Club Skye, 1509 E. 8th Ave., received three-day suspensions. MacDinton’s suspension begins March 18 while Club Skye’s begins March 9.
As in an earlier hearing, some people criticized the city’s actions as governmental overreach that harmed small businesses, violated individual rights and were inconsistently enforced with a bias against Ybor City clubs, which have made up almost all of the penalized establishments.
Aly Marie, who has previously identified herself as a member of Moms for Freedom, a group opposed to the local orders, said Tampa was an example of corruption.
“A vote to revoke the moneymaker of a bar for not policing their customers and forcing social compliance ... is a vote for government acting as a mafia and not as representatives of the people. This is coercion,” Marie said.
But the bar’s representatives, all of whom accepted the negotiated settlements, said the city’s enforcement had been effective.
“The message has been received,” said Mike Nelson, a lawyer representing Club Skye.
City attorneys haven’t scheduled any other establishments for suspension hearings, but warned that compliance would be a city priority, especially during the upcoming Spring Break weeks.
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