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‘Hospitality zone’ bar hours extended to 3 a.m.

By Staff | Mar 20, 2018

Extended bar hours are coming back to the city of Cape Coral. And if all goes well, the program could be permanent.

The Cape Coral City Council voted 7-1 Monday to extend bar hours in the South Cape “hospitality zone” until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights as well as on five designated holidays.

Mayor Joe Coviello was fully supportive of the ordinance, saying it would give a boost to commercial development in the area.

“We are being asked to pay a small amount of money in a concentrated area. The demographics of this city are changing. Young people are coming in and taking Uber and there’s potential for economic development,” Coviello said.

Projected cost was the primary Council sticking point – specifically the use of general fund money – but the board majority determined that the opportunity for business growth and the potential for making the area a destination should outweigh projected costs associated with public safety.

Citing data collected during a 2015-16 trial period when two bars stayed open until 4 a.m., Cape Coral Police Chief David Newlan said the new program would require four additional officers and a supervisor at a cost of more than $158,000 in overtime.

Conceding data collected during the 4 a.m. program didn’t compare apples to apples, Newlan said information compiled since gives a more complete picture with more calls for service, more DUIs and more crime reports written during the trial period than either before or after.

For the 3 a.m. program to be successful, he would need four officers and one supervisor to work overtime to patrol the district, Newlan said.

“We can’t say that every call was caused by the extended bar hours, but we can’t say it wasn’t either. You need to accept there will be an increase in crime. Otherwise, this will fail,” he said in the staff presentation to Council.

Joe Mazurkiewicz of BJM Consulting countered the police cost argument with a financial argument: Sixty-nine new businesses opened during the first extended bar hours program and some South Cape businesses saw revenue increase by as much as 140 percent. The two bars that took part in the 4 a.m. hours extension reported a business increase of 48 percent.

And it wasn’t just after the 2 a.m. “regular” closing time; the extended hours had an impact on area businesses as early as 9 p.m.

Mazurkiewicz said the 3 a.m. ordinance would bring vibrancy to the area, increase property values and the tax base, create more jobs, increase local investment, expand tourism and become an economic driver for the entire city.

“All I saw were pictures of drinks and people in handcuffs in the police presentation,” Mazurkiewicz said. “Stats can say anything you want them to mean. It all depends on your point of view.”

Regarding funding, two sources were suggested or confirmed.

Councilmember John Carioscia said that the money for the police-requested overtime could come from the unpaid salaries for the police officers that have been budgeted, but not hired yet.

Meanwhile, the Community Development Agency board has already agreed to fund a third of the cost.

The thought that city taxpayers would pay to extend serve times, though, remained a hurdle for some on Council.

Councilmember David Stokes said the e-mails he got from angry residents, concerned as well at the prospect of general fund tax dollars being used to pay for the police presence and possible additional safeguards such as license cameras, was a deal breaker.

Councilmembers Marilyn Stout, Rick Williams and Jessica Cosden also expressed concern with the money, saying that the CRA should pay for the South Cape-only program.

Public comment at the meeting was mostly positive with most saying that 3 a.m. is a good compromise, that businesses beside bars would benefit and that the CCPD would do a good job making sure things don’t get out of hand.

Council voted to support the measure for what it could do for businesses in the area, especially for those on Southeast 47th Terrace, which stand to lose money in the short term due to streetscape project construction.

Stokes cast the lone no vote.