St Petersburg Alcohol Sales Extended One Hour

05/06/10 Arielle Stevenson
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St. Petersburg’s one hundred or more bars and restaurants can keep bar tabs going until three in the morning, thanks to a vote by the city council today. The ordinance to allow sales of alcoholic beverages from 2 a.m. until 3 a.m. passed in a 6-2 vote. Supporters of the ordinance spoke about the increase in revenue and better competition with Tampa. Duffy Iorio has bartended in downtown St. Petersburg for the past six years. To Iorio, the extra hour means extra income.

I can honestly say that, if we do push it till three o'clock in the morning, that's more money in my pocket; that's more money I can spend here it St. Pete. I live in St. Pete; that's how I make my money. So, you know, that helps me pay my bills.

Though three versions of the ordinance were on the table, only one had been read during the council’s meeting on April 16. That version included bars as well as package stores in the extra hour. Dave Mamber, owner of Dave’s Aqua Lounge on Gandy Boulevard, encouraged the council to stick to that version. Mamber’s bar has a companion package store, which hit an economic pitfall when he was forced to close it at midnight.

The package store was open until two in the morning; now I have to close at twelve. Thirty-seven percent gross lost last year. It wasn't from partying kids or anything; it was a lot of people in my neighborhood that are in businesses — they're twenty-four/seven; they have three shifts. We don't feel very social about going to a bar at three in the morning, but they would prefer to take a package home — a package home that would get them off the road sooner, put them in their house sooner.

But for resident Daphne Miller, the city should look for other ways to encourage the economy beyond alcohol sales.

I feel like St. Petersburg is a vibrant city; I've lived here all my life. And the city has changed, and grown, and I feel like there's some other ways that perhaps should be looked at, rather than extending the hours for alcohol sales. I did write a letter and sent some documentation with some statistics about other cities and other countries who have increased their hours, and it was not a benefit to those places. Again, I am against this; I feel like the benefit to a few businesses is not to a benefit to the entire city, and all the residents of Pinellas County.

A poll conducted by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce showed 73 percent of residents favor the ordinance. Barry Edwards, a local political consultant, noted that the Republican National Convention would look more favorably on the area for its next convention if the hours were extended.

The best example is, we're trying to compete for the Republican National Convention. And I took some of the convention deciders on the committee out to dinner, when they were here two to three weeks ago. They had made the choice to go to Ocean Prime, instead of downtown to Park Shore, because they wanted to stay out the extra hour. And this is how, another step, on making it to America's next greatest city — not Tampa, but St. Petersburg.

After public comment, the council heard from St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon on the ordinance’s possible effect on police services. According to Harmon, there would be little increase in DUIs or incidents if it passed. But Harmon cautioned the council that response times would increase.

What I will tell you, what will impact us, if we do this without adding extra officers, you probably on average are adding four to fifteen minutes per call during that busiest time period of the response time. It will absolutely reduce our response time during the busiest time of the day.

Harmon said an additional 12 officers would be needed in order to prevent longer wait times. That would cost approximately 1.2 million dollars. With the police force already funding 150 to 200 hours of overtime on a regular basis, some on the council questioned Harmon’s estimates. Council member Jeff Danner said data showed higher calls for service at 2 p.m. than 2 a.m.

When I look at this, I see — I can't see any correlation between calls for service and alcohol sales. Interestingly, calls for service at 2 p.m. are twice as high as 2 a.m. And at 1 a.m., when the beverage of choice presumably would be alcohol, is equal to 9 a.m., when coffee is probably available.

Harmon said only 10 percent of the population is up at 2 a.m., but the number of calls is proportionally higher. Mayor Foster encouraged the council to consider the safety issue, but promised not to veto the ordinance if they passed it.

Don't assume that it would be dangerous. Don't assume that the police department can just handle it without the enhancements that the chief is talking about. Restaurants and businesses will make more money. So first, follow the money. And the second is, it will extend the social hour, the happy hour, and in some way, some will say, enhance that quality of life. Again, I've been in bed five hours by that time, so I will never see that.

The motion to allow alcohol sales for both bars and package stores passed with only two votes against it: Herb Polson and Leslie Curran. Curran noted that this could adversely affect the revitalization efforts downtown.

I just think it's unnecessary at this time. We've worked very hard to be that choice destination that we are; we've changed our image; we're not a city where you come to die. And I just don't think that it's necessary.

But council member Bill Dudley urged that if St. Petersburg wants to continue to thrive, it must be able to compete with Tampa’s later drinking hours.

If we're a major-league city, I think we need to act like a major-league city.

The new ordinance goes into effect Tuesday.

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