Following a sudden push by City Hall to shift the bill for added police officers away from the city and onto downtown bars located in the Central Business District/Downtown Entertainment Area, a group of downtown operators is clapping back with a proposal to levy a new 5% surcharge to help with the added costs and shift the cost to patrons instead. Like a hot potato.

The City of Orlando is currently workshopping two new ordinances that would a) put a moratorium on new bars and nightclubs opening downtown for a six-month period, and b) force nightclubs to close at midnight unless they meet certain safety standards and protocols, including paying for added security, metal detectors, and off-duty police officers.

The ordinances, which were first shared with downtown operators just six days before the City Council passed them on the first of two scheduled readings, are part of the mayor’s latest push to reduce crime downtown while also shifting the urban core away from a nighttime economy based on liquor sales and over to a more neighborhood-friendly model that aligns with Vision DTO and the under-development Downtown Action Plan 2.0. A vision that replaces bars and late-night partying with something more like Park Avenue in Winter Park with more restaurants and families headed to city-owned venues.

Police Chief Eric Smith estimates 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.

Those funds are currently being paid by the CRA, a special taxing district downtown meant to spend those funds on improving the core, like economic pilates. According to city staffers, the CRA is not meant to be paying for police initiatives and can only do so for a short period of time, hence the push to find a solution sooner rather than later, and the mayor’s office has no intention of finding the funds elsewhere, like in the general funds. City staff have been directed to push the ordinance forward, albeit with input from downtown operators, as quickly as possible.

At a recent workshop at City Hall, operators and downtown stakeholders shared that they believed the cost – an estimated $2.1 million – was too steep for them to shoulder alone, but that they agreed the added police presence downtown was needed.

Dominique Greco, the founder of the Orlando Hospitality Alliance and former Nighttime Economy Manager for the City of Orlando, recently shared a proposal with city hall presenting a possible 5% surcharge on all sales downtown that would be put into a fund specifically dedicated for public services. Greco estimates that the surcharge could bring in an estimated $3 million each year to help pay for the additional security initiatives and added police officers.

Other notes from the Orlando Hospitality Alliance include:

  • Remove the police protection and security component from the public safety measures. Additional police officers need to be full-time, not extra-duty, and they should be specifically trained for Downtown.
  • Do this as a pilot program to run concurrently with the moratorium. We can gather data and see the results before committing to this process for the long term.
  • Remove the walk-through metal detector component for all but a few places. They are not needed everywhere and will really hurt the look of downtown. It will make people perceive us as less safe. They may not even be possible to implement in many of our historic buildings, and some venues have as many as 12 doors. 
  • Start with wanding in most places unless they are very small and with no history of violence. Require the walk-through metal detectors only at venues that have had a weapons-related incident in the last few years. 
  • In the suspension and revocation section let’s get it a little closer to the St. Petersburg ordinance that has worked so well for them there. 
  • Add language saying that the business “knowingly” allowed the violation, and give the business an opportunity to remedy and make changes to prevent the violation again. For example, if a business is the site of an assault with a weapon, it will need to add a better weapons detection system to remedy the situation. 
  • State-licensed security can also be a possible remedy required upon violation of a code or statute.
  • We need to create tiers of violation severity. Human trafficking and public nuisance should not be treated the same.
  • Add in the specific, objective criteria for the safety measures requirements and the suspensions and revocations as well as the opportunities to remedy, or appeal citations.

As of Wednesday, February 1, Greco was still awaiting a response from the City, saying, “Although we have not received a response to our request-to-meet email (from 1/27), we remain hopeful that City is considering the good ideas suggested since last Orlando City Council meeting – many of which have been proposed over the years by and through my time as the nighttime economy manager and in the last 16 months as the Orlando Hospitality Alliance.”

Other solutions tabled at the aforementioned stakeholder meeting included a possible blanket 18-A permit for all of the Downtown Entertainment Area, which would allow operators and police to enforce gun restrictions at entry points to downtown, and treat it like a private street party on select nights. The City of Orlando already closes sections of Orange Avenue to create pop-up pedestrian areas and limit access to cars on busier nights.

The only problem with that proposal is that someone or something would have to shoulder the insurance and the permit, though given the number of main streets, business associations, and public/private partnerships in the Central Business District, they could certainly find some workable solution.

The next vote on the ordinances will take place on March 20.

Brendan O'Connor

Editor in Chief of

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  1. Unbelievable the courage they have to pass the Police bill to citizens that already pay a lot of taxes, licenses and etc. I think the patrons deserve that because nobody said one word against it.