TAMPA — Nightclub owners in Ybor City and elsewhere in Tampa could find themselves on a shorter leash in the future as Tampa City Council considers new rules aimed at reducing dangerous or criminal behavior at the clubs.
A proposal by Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin would stop alcohol sales citywide at midnight but allow businesses to obtain a permit to continue to serve alcohol until 3 a.m.
It’s the latest attempt by city council members to restrain bad behavior by patrons and owners of Tampa’s night clubs and bars. Council members last considered restrictions in May 2012.
That discussion came six months after five people were shot outside Club Manilla just east of Ybor City. Weeks before, two other people had been shot at Club Empire on Seventh Avenue.
Back then, city officials complained that state liquor laws give local government little power to challenge irresponsible club owners. The list of infractions that can cost a club its liquor license is short and doesn’t include shootings, fights or sale of alcohol or tobacco to minors.
The city is further hobbled because it lacks rules defining a nightclub and spelling out what’s allowable behavior in them, Assistant City Attorney Rebecca Kert said at the time.
Council members hope to correct some of those problems by defining a night club with its operating hours, size and clientele.
The proposed ordinance, which will be taken up Dec. 5, would give the city something to hold over the heads of club owners with a history of poor behavior, Capin said.
The city council could suspend a late-night permit if the club is caught violating items on a list that includes underage drinking, building code violations or even being the site of a homicide.
Tampa’s bars and restaurants now operate under two different systems. One uses the city code to set the window for serving alcohol from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. The other, established in the late 1990s, ties the hours for serving alcohol to the site’s zoning and land use.
Under the more recent system, property-rights protections make it difficult to punish business owners who flout the rules and nearly impossible to revoke permission to serve alcohol on a site after it’s been approved.
Capin’s proposal would undo the land use-based system over time.
“We are grasping for a mechanism with which we can exert some control over this process,” Councilman Harry Cohen said.
The proposed changes would have little impact on businesses whose alcohol serving times are written into their zoning — unless they opted for extending their hours to 3 a.m., Capin said. If they did that, they would forfeit their land use-based hours, she said.
Capin tried to pursuade her fellow council members to support extending the late-night permit to 4 a.m. to entice those businesses to participate. That part of her proposal met with resistance.
When bad things happen at nightclubs — as they did at Club Manilla — the public often demands the city shut down the business, as people did with Club Manilla.
“Right now, we don’t have a mechanism to do that,” attorney Kert told the council.
The proposed ordinance would affect the business owner, not the landowner, giving the city authroity to revoke or suspend permits, she said.
“Nobody has a property right in the hours of operations of when they sell alcohol,” she said.
Representatives from Ybor City, home to one of the city’s greatest concentration of businesses with alcohol permits, asked that any rules for alcohol permits be narrowly tailored to avoid harming business.
Vince Pardo, head of the city-sponsored Ybor City Development Corp., said businesses in Ybor City follow the rules and are safe — inside, at least.
“Under age drinking in clubs not an issue,” Pardo said. “We’re monitoring the parking lots.”