TAMPA — A day after a Tampa council member suggested shuttering businesses early in response to the weekend shooting in Ybor City, residents and business owners flocked to Old City Hall, decrying the proposal as a blow to the historic district and entertainment hub.
Newly elected member Gwen Henderson on Wednesday voiced support for closing businesses at 1 a.m. for six months following a shooting that left two people dead and more than a dozen injured early Sunday morning, reigniting discussions about the future of nightlife in Ybor.
Community members criticized the move as a knee-jerk reaction that does little to address the root causes of gun violence but would send shockwaves through the local economy and threaten the livelihoods of bar workers, many still reeling from the precarity of the pandemic.
“We don’t need another gut punch,” Jamaris Glenn, who owns an Ybor City restaurant and lounge, said at the council meeting Thursday.
Henderson, whose district includes Ybor, said she was grateful for the dialogue her proposal, which appears to have lost momentum, prompted.
“It’s not a means of punishing businesses. That’s not what today’s conversation was about,” she said. “The goal, ultimately, is to eradicate an environment that promotes violence in the light-night hour and ensure that Ybor continues to thrive.”
“The community has spoken,” she said. “I don’t feel beaten up.”
The shooting occurred in the early hours of Sunday morning amid throngs of Halloween revelers. A 14-year-old and 20-year-old were killed and 15 people were injured by gunfire. A 22-year-old man has been charged with second-degree murder.
Russell Simons, a general manager at a craft brewery located a block from the shooting, watched as crews pressure washed stained sidewalks the day after as Christmas decorations were being set up.
“It’s an emotional time,” said Simons, one of dozens who shared their concerns that early closing times in the shooting’s wake would harm the cultural and economic fabric of the neighborhood.
“It’s not the fault of business owners,” said Simons, an Ybor resident and gun violence survivor.
Residents also expressed concern that restrictions would disproportionately harm the LGBTQ+ community and the many businesses clustered in the historic district that cater to it.
“The gay bars are not just places to socialize. They are our community centers,” said Michael Womack, who was leaving Ybor at the time of Sunday’s shooting. “They’re where we come together to celebrate our diversity and find solace in a world that doesn’t always represent us.”
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Mayor Jane Castor has described Ybor as being in a “transitional phase,” from a nighttime-focused economy to one with a greater mix of residential properties.
Developer Darryl Shaw was among the crowd at Old City Hall Thursday. The day before, he’d recommended the city explore temporarily closing businesses by 1 a.m. in an opinion column in the Tampa Bay Times.
Shaw, who is planning to bring 5,000 homes to the area in the next 10 years, has said the shooting necessitates “hard conversations” for the historic district.
At Thursday’s meeting, council member Bill Carlson expressed reservations about plotting next steps while unknowns such as the motivations or gang affiliations of those involved loomed, as well as questions about how many children were involved and whether any had visited bars.
“We can’t diagnose the solution because we don’t know anything,” he said.
“I’ll tell you what we do know: It was a fight that erupted in literally seconds that turned to gunfire,” Tampa police Chief Lee Bercaw replied, unable to comment further given the active police investigation.
“The police department can’t handle this problem on its own,” Bercaw said. “This is a community problem.”
City leaders should still press forward, council member Lynn Hurtak said, pointing to expanded youth employment opportunities and after-school programming as options. She also encouraged residents to contact their state lawmakers.
“It’s the guns,” she said. “Unfortunately, we have very permissive gun laws in the state of Florida.”
The council also mulled over other responses to Sunday’s shooting, including a juvenile curfew the mayor called for the day prior. They did not take up a full discussion on a curfew, but city attorneys provided a draft ordinance that would prohibit under-16-year-olds unaccompanied by a parent from Ybor late at night. Violators and their parents would first receive a written warning and then a civil infraction and $50 fine for subsequent violations.
Other options include stepping up code enforcement and keeping East Seventh Avenue open to vehicle traffic longer on weekends to limit loitering. The thoroughfare currently shuts to traffic late Fridays and Saturdays to improve pedestrian safety when clubgoers spill out onto the street.
“To close the road or not to close the road, that is the million dollar question,” said Bercaw, the city police chief.
In the meantime, council members continue to champion the wounded, but persisting historic district.
“Let’s really encourage people to go out,” Hurtak said, “and enjoy Ybor at a time that works for them.”