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Problem Ybor clubs not the problem they once were

— Tampa City Council members tried once again to get a handle on bad behavior at the city’s bars and restaurants Thursday morning. And once again, they didn’t get very far.

The topic was a proposal that would define which city businesses are nightclubs and how to punish clubs that let their patrons get out of hand.

The proposal was driven by shootings at Ybor-area and West Tampa clubs in 2012. At the time, bar owners and residents clamored for the city to clamp down on problem clubs.

Today, those clubs are gone and Ybor’s bar owners appear to have changed their minds.

“Asking the good operators to pay for the wrongs of some bad people from a few years ago, I think, is a little bit unfair,” Tom George, owner of Crowbar and president of the Ybor Merchants Association, told council members.

Councilwoman Lisa Montelione countered: “This is precisely the time we should be discussing an ordinance.”

Thursday’s debate was the latest chapter in the city council’s continuing effort to get a handle bad behavior at bars, restaurants and clubs that sell alcohol. Council members will hold a workshop next Thursday to tackle the topic again.

Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin offered a proposal in December that would have created a permit to sell alcohol beyond midnight.

She argued that the proposal would give the city some leverage against businesses like Club Manila and Club Empire, both locations where patrons were shot to death. Clubs that broke the rules would lose their permit and be forced to close or stop serving alcohol during the lucrative period between midnight and 3 a.m.

Capin withdrew her proposal moments after the Dec. 5 council meeting open as she faced a room filled with angry Ybor business owners who said the proposal would do them in.

The nightclub proposal discussed Thursday has been two years in the making. It would apply to bars and clubs with a capacity of 250 to 2,000 people. Places smaller than that are easily overseen by their owners; larger than that, places must have a certain level of crowd control to function, said assistant city attorney Rebecca Kert, who drew up the draft rules.

The rules would apply to about 20 of the 140 businesses that serve alcohol in Ybor City, city planning director Catherine Coyle told city council members. That number would grow if the rules were applied citywide, where there are more than 1,353 businesses — from bars to grocery stores — with city-issued alcohol permits.

Kert said city officials have spent months talking with Ybor business owners about ways to control trouble spots.

“At some point there was some level of consensus that there was a need for some type of regulation,” Kert said.

That common ground disappeared before council members even got to talk about the rules.

Several Ybor bar owners rose early in the meeting to oppose rules they had asked for two years ago.

“We don’t need additional ordinances,” Ybor Ritz owner Joe Capitano Sr. told the council. “I’m asking that you guys enforce the laws you’ve got, not give us new laws.”

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