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CRA Commission recommends keeping extended bar hours downtown for a year

By Staff | Feb 17, 2016

Cape Coral’s CRA Commission heard a presentation from Cape Coral Police Chief Bart Connelly and Economic Development Director Dana Brunett on data collected over the first nine months of the city’s ordinance extending bar hours until 4 a.m.

After lengthy discussion of the data, the commission voted on two recommendations. The first one failed 3-5 extending the program for three years. The second, recommending council extend the program for one year in order to collect more specific data, passed 6-2.

Commission chair Jim Burch and vice-chair John Carioscia cast dissenting votes on both motions. They were joined by Commissioners Jessica Cosden, Marni Sawicki and Marilyn Stout in rejecting the first motion.

“I will not support any recommendations right now because we have asked for more data from Dana and the chief,” said Burch. “I just don’t have enough data to make a decision. The economy is increasing on its own, so we don’t know for sure how it relates to the 4 a.m. extension.”

Chief Connelly pointed out that calls for intoxicated persons rose from 10 in April to January 2014 to 64 for the same period in 2015 with the added hours. Similar spikes in police activity occurred for disturbances, trespassing and citizen interactions with police officers.

DUI arrests increased from 33 to 72 during the same period with increases also in disorderly conduct and battery arrests.

“We knew going in that the numbers would be higher,” said Connelly. “But the numbers are not as significant as we thought they would be. Some months the numbers spiked up, some months they were down. Never before have we worked so closely with the business owners, who have given us 100 percent cooperation.”

Connelly was unable to say how many of the DUI arrests were directly related to the bar hours.

“Some people we arrest are not willing to talk to us,” he said. “We ask them where they were, but we’re not sure if they tell us the truth or not.”

Connelly said he pulled officers from other parts of the city to have extra officers in the area when the bars closed at 4 a.m.

“That leaves these areas of the Cape less protected and I’d like to alleviate that in the future,” Connelly said.

Carioscia asked the chief if his department could manage the situation as it is?

He responded, “No, not without making adjustments.”

“I will see that you get more manpower,” said Carioscia.

Burnett reported that sales in the CRA district rose an average of 23 percent according to the figures he was able to gather from businesses that were willing to share the information. Other businesses in the district not participating the 4 a.m. hours indicated an increase of 106 percent.

“We walked the streets and talked to the owners,” said Brunett. “Of course, not all of the businesses are open until 4 a.m., so they are not as impacted. This is a pretty favorable impact on the area.”

Dixie Roadhouse told Brunett it lost money in 2014, but made money in 2015 because of the extended hours. It’s best Saturday in 2015 was 1,152 patrons while its best Saturday in 2016 has been 2,360.

Commissioner Rick Williams pointed out that the data from April to September does not include “seasonal” data.

“There probably are more people there now,” Williams said. “We need to see that data, too.”

Even with the recommendation of the CRA Commission, City Council will receive an update of its own at a special workshop session in March from Connelly and Brunett, complete with the added data the commission asked for. Council, which has the final say on the extension, then has until the pilot ordinance expires in April to decide if the program continues with or without changes to the ordinance.

The commission also opened a long-awaited discussion about hiring a CRA director to lead the agency in the future instead of the current board of commissioners. They also considered hiring an outside redevelopment firm to take over the day-to-day running of the district projects.

A team representing Redevelopment Management Associates gave the commissioners a presentation of what they have been able to do in CRA district in other communities throughout Florida.

Commissioners asked staff to research which way would be in the best interests of Cape’s CRA and perhaps tap the resource available at the Florida Redevelopment Agency for some direction.

All commissioners were in agreement that with the economic recovery now is the time to move the CRA district into the future.