Tampa, Florida -- It was a packed house inside Tampa City Council Chambers on Thursday as the council began talks during a workshop about possibly regulating nightclubs within city limits and defining what exactly is a "nightclub."
Proposed regulations include:
- Restricting anyone under the age of 21 from entering a nightclub that serves alcohol
- Requiring nightclubs to hire extra duty officers (the number varies based on maximum occupancy)
- Requiring at least one staff member on duty to be trained by the Fire Marshall's Crowd Management program
- Establishing a suspension/revocation process based on criminal activity.
- Crowd management training
- The nightclubs would also have to obtain a permit to operate and fall under the regulations of Chapter 6 of the city code which regulates pain clinics and adult use businesses.
Nightclub owners are not happy about the proposals. The Facebook Page says it all: "Tampa Nightlife is Under Attack-Fight for Your Rights."
The ideas were introduced after recent violence at nightclubs led to city council asking its staff what could be done to improve safety.
Among those who spoke Thursday included bar and nightclub owners from the Ybor City area.
Sandra Hein, with Czar in Ybor says, "We're concerned that we're not going to be able to stay in business. The regulations they are proposing are extraordinary for us at Czar. It would be an extra $168,000 in extra off duty officers a year."
Based on the number of patrons on some nights, Heim says they'd need to hire 5 additional off duty officers under the proposed regulations.
She is also strongly opposed to restricting people under the age of 21 from entering her establishment.
"It's their right to be there. They can die for our country, but they can't dance on my dance floor. It's a little ridiculous. They can vote and put these people in office, but they can't dance in our club. That's just insane," she said.
Despite the large number of those opposed to the proposed regulations, there were those who support the chances, including Ellen Snelling with the Tampa Alcohol Coalition.
"I think if we want to have an idea situation to keep underage drinking to a low level, then I believe 21 and up wold work. It's working in 21 other cities and counties across the state," she told the council.
Assistant City Attorney Rebecca Kert told the council she called the workshop so the issue can be discussed with all of those impacted taking part.
She says the goal is to not be over inclusive or under inclusive.
The Ybor City Development Corporation supports tools to deal with problem bars. A list of recommendations from the YCDC includes meeting with clubs to "discourage catering to high risk patrons", charging clubs for extraordinary expenses associated with on-duty officers and services, review occupancy violation fines, and establish a system of enforcement that relates directly with owners of problem businesses.
The club owners asked they not be punished for the bad deeds of a few, referring to the problem plagued Club Manilla and the former Empire.
"I think you need to be very careful. When you affect the finances of a business, it's fragile, it's difficult to make payroll for 53 people every week and to add those burdens would be difficult for us, I can tell you and promise you that," Eric Schiller, owner of Gaspar's Grotto in Ybor City told the council.
As expected, Thursday's meeting was just a workshop to put some ideas on the table and get feedback.
No votes were taken.
The earliest the restrictions could come back up in front of city council is June 7.
At that time, a council member could propose an ordinance that includes some or all of restrictions.
Many business owners say they left Thursday's meeting just as concerned as when they walked in.
"We're afraid for our business and just want to make sure that we're going to be able to hold onto it," Hein said.
They're still looking for solutions that will allow them to survive.