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Extended bar hours gathering traction

By Staff | Mar 15, 2018

The South Cape Community Redevelopment Agency unanimously showed its support this week for a city ordinance that would re-establish an extended bar hours program in Cape Coral’s hospitality zone.

The meeting took all of five minutes, without any public comment pro or con, or a presentation by Joe Mazurkiewicz, president of BJM Consulting, regarding the benefits of the program.

The ultimate decision will now be made by the Cape Coral City Council Monday where the issue is expected to draw more debate than it did Wednesday.

City Councilmember John Carioscia said the new ordinance will be less intense than the last program, with bars given the option to stay open until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (plus five holidays) and won’t require participating businesses to pay for off-duty police officers as was required last time.

“We’re asking for two hours a week and the bars won’t be charged for what they’re being offered, and that’s police service,” said Carioscia, the ordinance’s sponsor. “How can we charge Dixie Roadhouse more than we charged Backstreets? It doesn’t compute. And what if another bar comes along? Do we run to them?”

Mazurkiewicz said it is important to fashion the discussion around how this will help area businesses and not the residual effects.

“It’s not about extending bar hours for one hour. It’s about developing a market for the South Cape that we realize as a result of the pilot program we did in 2015,” Mazurkiewicz said. “It enhanced the amount of activity in the district and we think it will do it again..”

CRA board member Linda Biondi said the ordinance will make South Cape a destination, and will serve as a boon to the businesses on Southeast 47th Terrace, which are currently struggling with the streetscaping going on there, which has resulted in a lack of parking and the mess associated with construction.

The original program, which extended bar hours until 4 a.m., was tried on a trial basis in 2015-16. Two venues took part.

The program died in 2016 after the then-sitting City Council, in the wake of a police analysis outlining concerns and continued controversy among some in the public who decried the extra “drinking hours,” deadlocked on a motion to continue it.

Currently, appropriately licensed venues can serve alcohol on their premises from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. city wide.

The ordinance as proposed would extend the close time by one hour twice a week within the South Cape hospitality zone only.

Mazurkiewicz said the extra hour will draw more people to that consolidated area, which would be a good thing for a retail or entertainment district.

“There will be more people drinking, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about creating a marketing niche,” Mazurkiewicz said. “I have confidence in the Cape Coral Police Department working with the businesses downtown to make sure it remains a safe environment.”

Carioscia, a policeman himself for 35 years in Chicago, also has confidence in the police, just not in their statistics from the 2015-16 trial period, which said there were more calls to service citywide because of the program.

“The negative stats are predicated on 4 a.m. hours. It’s not the specific detail of what we’re doing. UCR crime rates, violent and property crime, went down during extended bar hours,” Carioscia said. “They said calls for service were up. Well, barking dogs are calls for service, and what does what happened on Pine Island Road have to do with this? They could have been drinking there or at home.”

For this reason he also disputes the police estimate that the one-hour extension will cost the city $158,440 in overtime for four officers and a supervisor in first year,

For the businesses that took part, the trial period was a worthwhile endeavor. They saw an increase in revenue of 48 percent, with employees earning significantly more money in tips. Even places that didn’t stay open later got a residual bump from it, some seeing as much as a 140 percent increase, Mazurkiewicz said.

Overall, the increase was about 30 percent.

But when the City Council deadlocked on make the program permanent, it meant serious consequences, especially for Dixie Roadhouse.

“It’s very much a tipped business. More people in the business means more tips. It was significant,” said Lynn Pippinger, Dixie Roadhouse owner. “The worst part of losing extended hours was laying people off. We lost two managers and several line employees. They were great people, we just didn’t have the volume or hours to keep them.”

The extra hour at a glance seems to be a bit more palatable to all concerned. There also seems to be an inclination for more area businesses to participate, since there isn’t the expense associated with a requirement to hire off-duty officers.

“I think people support it. I took a survey and support was split 50/50,” Biondi said. “It’s the way of the world. It’s not a 9 to 5 world anymore and people need places to go and things to do.”

Carioscia said council needs to decide what kind of city it wants to be and go “all in” one way or the other.

“We have to decide do we wants and arts and entertainment section or not?” Carioscia said. “If we don’t we move on. If we do, we have to let the bar owners know we’re behind them and it’s permanent.”