South Cape bars can now apply to stay open until 4 a.m. on weekends
With a new ordinance approved, businesses and bars in the South Cape are weighing the pros and cons of what a two-hour weekend extension can have on their business.
Monday night the Cape Coral City Council approved an ordinance that will give businesses and bars the option to apply for a special permit to participate in a pilot program extending hours from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. In addition to applying for the permit, business must pay to have an off-duty Cape police officer on premise for safety; install surveillance systems to monitor all activity; comply with the state Responsibility Vendor Act; have one dedicated security staff person per 150 patrons and 15 minutes before closing will be last call.
City spokesperson Connie Barron said permitting staff is finalizing the process and should have forms and fact sheets ready by the end of next week for the new ordinance.
BackStreets Sports Bar Marketing Director David Delli Paoli said they will be participating because they believe in the concept.
“We believe that this is one thing that can add to an already great entertainment district,” he said. “We are going to be coming out of pocket to be paying for the police because we believe in this so much.”
Although they intend to apply for the permit, Delli Paoli said they probably will not open the extra two hours for another couple of weeks because they want to make sure they have everything in order first.
Throughout any point of the day BackStreets has a diverse age group that ranges from 21 to 75. Currently, with the 2 a.m. closing time, Delli Paoli said they have a very strong showing of people in their 40s and 50s.
He said with the ordinance going into effect on April 3, he believes it will be a good chance to try it during off season when they can handle an extra two hours with local traffic before having to beef things up later in the year.
“People look at it and focus just on those two hours,” Delli Paoli said. “What they don’t focus on is the options that it brings. We have a very, very strong European presence and they all look at you funny when you say you close at 2 a.m.”
He said visitors from larger northern municipalities are also used to later bar hours.
The extended hours, Delli Paoli said will draw people into the area.
“Once they are here maybe they can see everything else. Maybe book a vacation,” he said.
With more tourism, Delli Paoli said more businesses and jobs will come to the area, which means more tax income for the city that then equates to fewer taxes for homeowners. That trickledown effect, he said, will take some time to kick in.
Every municipality that they have talked to with bar hours to 4 a.m. said “if you build it, they will come,” he added.
Although he believes the extended bar hours will be good for the economy, he also understands the communities safety concerns.
“We were voted as the second safest city in Florida,” Delli Paoli said. “We do have one of the greatest police forces around. They can handle it, especially if we are paying to have more police officers out there.”
He said they want to make sure their customers always feel safe.
Another concern the community has expressed are the possible increase of DUIs.
“What this law will do is it will bring more people here,” Delli Paoli said. “Add more variables to a situation; you are going to increase the chances. It’s a numbers game. People are trying to say from 2 to 4 more . . . more people creates more DUIs. If that is the case should we stop tourism all together? It’s not the hours being from 2 to 4 that are going to create more DUIs.”
He went on to say that there are many bars that offer happy hour specials.
“How many of those people get in their cars and drive home during rush hour,” Delli Paoli said, adding there are no DUI checkpoints at that time of the day to collect data.
“I know there is a lot of opinions and emotions involved,” he said. “A lot of people have been affected by drunk drivers. I have lost family members and dear friends to drunk drivers. (You have to) remove emotions and take a look at the facts and the economic boost that the ordinance brings to this place. Look at it with an open mind and give it a chance to work.”
There are also businesses and bars in Cape Coral that have expressed no desire to apply for the permit.
The Dek Bar Manager Billy McKee said applying for the special permit is not financially reasonable for them to do. He said for an extra two hours, they would have to pay bands more money, as well as pay an off duty police officer for those two nights.
“We are not going to make a profit off an extra two hours for all the money going out,” he said.
In addition to the extra money going into the extended time, he said it would be hard on their employees as well. McKee said if they closed the doors at 4 a.m., his employees would not be leaving until 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.
“That is an issue for my boss,” he said.
Cape Coral Councilmember Richard Leon, who spearheaded the effort, said he hopes the pilot program will show the community the level of safety that can be maintained while extending the bar hours.
He said people will come to the city to go out to dinner, watch a movie before going out and enjoying a few drinks.
“I can go out and have a good time at these events and have a good time at night,” Leon said, adding that the trial period is an experiment to see if those types of situations unfold.
Leon said he hopes to also extend relationships into Bonita Springs and the Florida Gulf Coast University communities to provide some type of trolley service to bring people into Cape Coral.
Throughout the ordinance’s trial period, Leon said he wants to make sure that they are looking at the economic value of extending the hours. He said there are many things in the following year that the City of Cape Coral needs to keep an eye on to provide research data for 2016.
He said with Cape Coral being the only location between Tampa and Miami to have the extended bar hours, the sales will increase not only for the local bars, but for restaurants and hotels.
“It’s another tool to sell Cape Coral,” Leon said.
He said since Cape Coral extended the bar hours it makes the city a unique and rare location on the west coast of Florida, which provides an opportunity for property values to increase.