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Cover 05/29/2013

Reasons bar-owners are frustrated over the drinking hours debate in Orlando

It turns out, the city’s proposition to extend last call by one hour may not be good for some bars

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Though most of the bars that currently have occupancies exceeding 300 people already employ off-duty Orlando police officers, the proposed ordinance would mandate their presence at those establishments. The bar owners we spoke to that do utilize off-duty officers estimated that cost to be around $25,000 a year (according to Fagan, OPD Chief Paul Rooney “thinks that number is too high”), and that does not include insurance.

“It’s a loss of entitlement for the operators. You end up with costly appeals or increased insurance costs,” says Marc Bortz of Bortz Group, a venue-management company with several downtown properties. “If you mandate that bar owners use police officers, from my experience, that’s how you get corruption.”

Specifically, Bortz calls into question the allegiance of an officer who is employed by the city and a private business at the same time. “They want us to pay these guys $40 an hour. Aren’t you going to protect your job first?”

Independent Bar’s Gardner would be directly affected by the mandate, as he does not currently employ off-duty officers. He says that his bar has only called 911 an average of four times a year. “We don’t have a violence problem,” he says. “So requiring me to hire off-duty, I literally do not know what the police officers would do. Just stand around?”

In 2010, the Orlando Police Department conducted a study of its off-duty police program following 28 formal internal affairs investigations in 2009 against cops who had allegedly engaged in misconduct or operational violations. The study determined that more oversight of police doing off-duty work was needed.

 

It could destroy the downtown economy

A major concern among the downtown businesses is the apparent redrafting of downtown’s demographics. Under the proposed ordinance, bars within the Community Redevelopment Agency boundaries would be required to admit only patrons aged 21 and up in order to remain open after midnight. Businesses wishing to stay open later would have to have a $500 annual permit and cease admission of underage patrons after 10 p.m. That, according to several businesses, would send a message to schools, like the University of Central Florida and Full Sail University, that students are no longer welcome downtown.

By the city’s estimation, this is a public-safety issue. After numerous reports of violence after the clubs let out – some of it coming from underage drinkers – the city is hoping to remove the youth element from the equation. That way, the city hopes, a more mature audience will return to Orange Avenue.

Five of the seven largest downtown areas in the state of Florida already have 21-plus requirements, so it’s a natural evolution.

Opponents contend that the move is short-sighted. “It’s the wrong thing to do,” Bortz says. “It will be bad for business, it will make real estate prices go down, make real estate taxes go down and drop income from parking decks.” Bortz adds that the city’s plan doesn’t take into account the revenues lost for restaurants.

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Comments in violation of the rules will be denied, and repeat violators will be banned. Please help police the community by flagging offensive comments for our moderators to review. By posting a comment, you agree to our full terms and conditions. Click here to read terms and conditions.
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