Orlando City Council voted to move forward today on two ordinances that could potentially change the game for downtown bar and nightclub operators.
We told you HERE that city staff had been workshopping some possible ordinances that would make it more difficult to operate nightclubs past midnight without a set of required safety measures in place — namely two new ordinances that would place a moratorium on any new bars or nightclubs opening downtown over a six-month period and another that would require bars that serve liquor after midnight with occupancies of at least 150 people to have a special late-night operating permit and to hire off-duty police officers and licensed security guards at their own expense.
That proposal, which was first shared with downtown operators just six days ago, has just been approved for its first read by city commissioners, as part of a new strong-arm approach to bars and nightclubs and their perceived connection to a spike in crime in the past two years.
Police Chief Eric Smith estimated that Orlando Police have been spending an extra $40,000 each weekend on crime prevention and staffing as part of a recent surge of police presence in the Downtown Entertainment Area, which city officials say has resulted in a reduction in downtown shootings and crime.
“We’re unable to justify that type of manpower allocated to such a small portion of our city,” said Chief Smith, during the Council meeting, saying the surge is working but that it is unsustainable for city hall to continue paying for the costs, asking that the burden be shared and even carried by the nightclub operators instead.
Mayor Dyer intervened at one moment during the meeting to share that he believed the most that any of the operators were likely to pay for the required off-duty police services would be “… just $336,000.”
Tim Giuliani, President and CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership was the first to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting (at the 1:58 mark in the above video), encouraging the Council to vote yes on the proposed ordinances, saying “We need to have a better experience downtown,” calling for an increase in safety measures and the perception of safety in order to increase downtown occupancy and attracting new businesses there.
“People, by and large, don’t feel safe downtown. If we want to compete, globally, for expansions, high-wage jobs, if want to increase our occupancy rates in downtown buildings then you’re gonna have to do something different. We’ve got to ensure that companies that are considering an expansion or relocation when they visit our downtown feel confident that it’s a safe place.”– TIM GIULIANI, PRESIDENT AND CEO, ORLANDO ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP
John SanFelippo of the Beachman Entertainment Group, which employs over 250 people, shared that he currently pays an estimated $350,000 in off-duty police officer fees and that with the new ordinance, he believed those fees would almost double (2:19 mark in the above video).
“We were kind of blindsided by this ordinance. Since the last ordinance was passed, we were only asked one time to submit our sound study so it could be used as a comparison or as a benchmark. Other than making sure we registered who our managers were, I have not heard anything from anyone from the City, regarding the updates on how and when that ordinance was going to be implemented. I don’t know that we can move forward on a 2.0 of that ordinance, without making sure that everyone is in compliance with the first.
We have spent tens of thousands of dollars on a sound study, hundreds of dollars putting together a book that contains over 50 licenses that it takes for me to operate in downtown Orlando. There’s still a lot of confusion over the last ordinance. The week before New Year’s Eve, one night we were approached by city staff and we were told that our DJs had to have a permit or a license to DJ after one o’clock. That was incorrect information, we were able to resolve that problem, however, this is just one example of the first ordinance not being fully executed and implemented to make sure that everybody’s in compliance moving forward …– JOHN SANFELIPPO, MANAGING MEMBER, BEACHAM ENTERTAINMENT GROUP
The City Commissioners, despite the attempts by downtown operators in attendance to pause the proceedings for more time for dialogue, unanimously voted to approve the first reading of the proposed ordinances, though they all took a moment to meditate on what it could mean.
Commissioner Ortiz called for some sort of compromise down the line but spent most of his time admonishing the bar owners for not cooperating with them earlier, saying the bar owners need to be involved all the time not just in times of crisis.
Commissioner Hill chimed in in support of the operators, clapping back that they have been cooperating with the city and that they are all part of a Nightclubs Task Force. And that despite that, they were still blindsided, as she was, by how quickly the two ordinances were being pushed through by city staff. She also pointed out that she has seen lots of stipulations against current nightclub operators but nothing about what they’re doing to attract new businesses downtown once they leave.
Hill also paused to reflect on some of the language city staff had been using during the proceedings, including the labeling of many downtown goers as “undesirables.”
Commissioner Gray, who says that he has had an office downtown for 35 years, read from a two-page pre-written statement calling for a new downtown with a variety of uses, not just bars. He shared that he believed the majority of operators in the Downtown Entertainment Area were ignoring the rules and forcing the public to pick up the costs, saying, “… nighttime economies don’t contribute to the city,” and that “many operators will go out of business.”
Commissioner Sheehan shared that police officers “… hate working downtown, which is why they have to be paid more to be there,” claiming she hears that they get spat on and disrespected daily. Sheehan called for more bar controls to prevent overserving, and a shift from a “beer and barf downtown” to one that people felt comfortable in again.
The mayor says that he hopes for more discussion over the next six weeks before the council votes on the ordinances one last time.
“I think this was good to get some of the issues from the businesses on the table, and I’m willing for staff to have more discussions for if there is a better way to have, the distribution for how we pay for all the manpower, and womanpower, that we have in our downtown. That there is no question that putting more police officers in our downtown has made the downtown safer. And then it becomes a question of who should be paying for that additional manpower.”– ORLANDO MAYOR DYER
The second reading, which was scheduled to take place on February 6, will take place on March 20.