St. Petersburg City Council decided Thursday to table proposals for ordinances that would increase security regulations in downtown bars. The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce will instead meet with local businesses and review potential regulations to present to City Council for consideration.
Downtown St. Petersburg is thriving with busy restaurants, clubs and bars open late combined with active shops, a lively arts scene and crowded events—something many locals get giddy about when they see it in full swing. Crowd control and a need for increased security is just a natural consequence when more people are active in your city, but it is a need.
One of the many reasons downtown is now a noted hot spot particularly for the late-night crowd is the extended bar closing hours, now at 3:00 a.m. versus 2:00 a.m.
What difference does one hour make? This one hour difference made St. Pete’s bars and restaurants competitive with its nearby Hillsborough County watering holes, keeping locals local and even enticing those from the other side of the bay to check out St. Petersburg’s scene.
However, increased crime has also been noted by local authorities, including the not-too-long-ago incident at the downtown club, Club Scene, where two people were shot inside the club. According to the Tampa Bay Times, just last week St. Pete police had to break up a skirmish outside the Club Scene that had 75 people involved.
At this point, it became clear to city leaders and law enforcement that swift action was needed to address growing security problems. Yesterday, Chief Assistant Attorney Mark Winn presented several options to help address these issues along with ways to cover costs.
City Council members along with local bar, club and restaurant owners also joined in the conversation.
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster was clear on the objective. “We are here to fix it not just deal with it anymore,” said foster regarding the need for increased security. “Something that will keep our downtown thriving and get people home safely, which is our ultimate goal.”
Winn’s proposed options included a permit process for establishments:
- Require downtown establishments (from Bayfront to 20th Street and 5th Avenue North to 5th Avenue South) serving alcohol past midnight to apply for a permit;
- Require businesses with more than 200 patrons to hire two off-duty police officers for outside the establishment on Friday, Saturday and days with special events with more than 200 people expected and a requirement for inside security, which would not have to be off-duty officers;
- Require businesses with fewer than 200 patrons to implement extra security requirements for specific businesses that have demonstrated a history of non-compliance or multiple incidents that require police assistance.
- A permit fee would be imposed on any business serving alcohol up to 3 a.m. no matter the size of the establishment;
- A security fee also could be imposed on bars, clubs and restaurants as proposed by Foster.
Foster spoke of the need to generate revenue to cover the costs of increased policing, which was met with opposition from others who cited that businesses already pay ad valorem property taxes and should not have to pay more for higher police call rates.
Council members Karl Nurse and Jeff Danner proposed applying the nuisance abatement model for problem bars and clubs. This is the same model used to deal with the problem motels along 34th Street.
“If you are a problem, like those motels, you are a nuisance to the surrounding area,” Danner said.
Nurse chimed in agreeing, but addressed the need for a swifter process for it to be effective here.
Meanwhile, bar and club owners asked for more time, working with the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce to develop an agreed-upon proposal. Among the bar owners who spoke up on the issue included Mark Ferguson, owner of Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill; Charles Kott, owner of Midtown Sundries; and owners of Vintage Ultra Lounge, Bishop Tavern, Emerald Bar, Jonny Reno’s.
The club most often cited and reference by those who spoke Thursday as a bad example of not taking security seriously was Club Scene, whose owners were not present at this meeting.
Old Northeast-Downtown Patch reported, “At the end of the lengthy discussion, council chair Leslie Curran said she said the city missed an opportunity to previously have this discussion before these problems arose.”
“’I wish we had had this much of a discussion before we changed the law to allow 3 a.m.,’ she said. ‘..Sometimes we have those unintended circumstances after the fact.’”
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