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New law brings Hillsborough County in line with rest of Florida regarding restaurant size to sell alcohol

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

For decades, aspiring restaurateurs in Tampa and Hillsborough County have had to contend with regulations unlike those in any other part of Florida.

State law requires that any restaurant that serves alcohol must be at least 2,500 square feet in size. However, in Hillsborough County,  state law dictated that restaurants that sell booze must be at least 4,000 square feet.

Not any longer, after Governor Rick Scott signed a bill (HB 1417) sponsored by Tampa House Republican Dana Young on Friday that revises Hillsborough’s space requirements for liquor licenses for restaurants.

“What was happening was our Hillsborough County restaurants were having to be significantly larger,” Young says, adding that while it may be a “little thing” compared to other actions performed by the Legislature, “little things matter to business people.”

“We heard from building owners and developers and even from planners in the city staff  that it was a requirement that was somewhat inhibiting the development of new restaurants in downtown, and all over Hillsborough County,” says Christine Burdick with the Tampa Downtown Partnership. The Partnership had been hearing from those developers complaining about the regulations, prompting the TDP to contact Young to see if she could support such legislation, which she did.

Burdick says the Tampa Downtown Partnership has become more active in recent years on weighing in on some public issues,  specifically noting transportation.

“We will have more spaces available for hose lovely new restaurant dreamers and entrepreneurs who have good ideas for the spaces in downtown that can grow,” she says enthusiastically.

It’s not clear  why Hillsborough was an outlier when it came to size regulations for selling alcohol, but it’s another so-called “special act” that Hillsborough County was subjected to in the 1960’s and 70’s.

The long embattled Public Transportation Commission was created by a special act of the Florida Legislature in the 1970’s. So was the Environmental Protection Commission (created in 1967).

Special acts also created the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, the Tampa Port Authority, the Tampa Sports Authority, the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission, and the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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