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Extended bar hours begin April 1

March 22, 2018
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

In the wee hours of April 1, the city of Cape Coral will officially begin an extended bar hours program for the second time with the hopes of not only making the South Cape a destination but to do so in a way that is safe for everyone.

The city Council on Monday voted 7-1 to bring back extended bar hours for Friday and Saturday nights, as well as certain holidays, this time to 3 a.m. as opposed to the 4 a.m. closing time used last go-around.

That trial period went from April 2015 to April 2016, and ended when the then-sitting Council deadlocked on continuing due to reported increased crime numbers, even though the program proved financially beneficial to business in the South Cape where two venues took part.

Those venues, Backstreets and Dixie Roadhouse, reported significant revenue increase as did other businesses in the district.

For the program to work this time, it likely needs to heed the advice of other cities that have done extended hours in the past, such as St. Petersburg and South Beach in Miami.

Jim Peters, president of the Responsible Hospitality Institute, a not-for-profit that aids communities with "nightlife" expansion, said extended bar hours are a growing trend. In California, a bill is being considered that would allow large cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco to have 4 a.m. closings.

"The closing time has a lot to do with how you manage things with the public agencies and the kind of relationship they've had with the neighbors," Peters said. "How efficiently can they get out of these areas at closing time? Are they lingering or having parking lot parties?"

When Cape Coral did its trial period for 4 a.m. bar hours in 2015-16, the Cape Coral Police and bar owners had a working relationship, meeting monthly to find ways to make the late hours safer and less eventful.

Bart Connelly, police chief at the time said then there was a tremendous partnership between the police and bar owners and that partnership produced results.

"We have reduced the number of incidents that have occurred with the extended hours such as DUI, mischief, intoxication. Officers have talked to people about getting rides home and advising them on what they should do." Connelly said in October 2015, six months into the program.

Upon completion of the trial period, though, the CCPD reported that calls for service, crime numbers and DUI arrests had all increased.

Peters said bars need to decide for themselves whether to take on the burden of staying open late and deal with the increased chance for trouble.

But they won't have to pay for police, as they had to pay for off-duty officers the first time the hours extension was tried.

This time, there will be four on-duty officers and a supervisor in the area at a cost of more than $150,000 in overtime. The money will come mostly from the city's General Fund, with South Caper Community Redevelopment Agency paying a third.

In other areas, that is considered appropriate, Peters said.

"You don't have banks pay for police in the day to protect their business. It's what people pay taxes for," Peters said. "Cities have dedicated police teams at night trained to deal with nightlife issues."

Cape Coral would like to see economic development increase with the extended hours, as it did the last time it was tried.

This time, they want to program made permanent so people looking to invest in the South Cape have a level of certainty.

Peters said the world in changing, and that people aren't punching in and out at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. London has the option for 24/7 bar hours.

The reason is simple. People don't want to be alone. Flexible hours are a good thing, and those who work the odd hours need the same opportunity to unwind and socialize as the 9-to5ers.

"The night time economy represents an important economic engine. Everyone needs a chance to meet and socialize. In New Orleans, the people who are out at 4 a.m. are the restaurant and bar workers. It's the swing shifters who are likely to be going to these places," Peters said. "You need to recognize the other '9 to 5.'"

This creates jobs and adds a different layer to the daytime economy. People will go out and get their hair done or buy clothes in the day to socialize at night, proponents of extended hours say.

Even big companies have made nightlife an important component in deciding whether or not to move into an area, Peters said. Amazon is an example.

Dana Brunett, the city's economic development director, said there will be a positive impact on the South Cape economy, as it did the last time. The question is how much so with an hour less than the 2015-16 trial.

"The numbers showed that in the prior test. How far reaching it will be I don't know. Before it was a test. If it's permanent, there might be more long-lasting effect. More money may be put into businesses," Brunett said. "During the last test year, 69 new businesses came in."

During Monday's Cape Coral City Council meeting, consultant Joe Mazurkiewicz gave a presentation that showed the residual effect of extended hours. Even if venues didn't close at 4 a.m., revenues increased. In fact, the impact was felt by businesses as early as 9 p.m. in some instances. Restaurants, for example, could have an extra seating.

"People weren't coming out for the last two hours, they were coming out for the time before that. How late they stay out is up to them," Brunett said.

Ultimately, it is customers who will determine what impact the new hours will have, according to some.

JoAnn Elardo, owner of Big Blue Brewing, said they set their hours based on what customers want.

"I love the opportunity that we have. I think it's very difficult to see when the government tells you what hours you should be open," Elardo said. "We don't know how it's going to affect us. If there is business we will be open like any business owner would be."

Elardo said the ordinance will have a good impact on the area, but the customer will decide whether it will succeed.

"Anytime you're a little different, that helps your business. We have a lot of tourists who come in the winter, so it's nice to be able to be on par with some of the other places," Elardo said.

For some South Cape businesses, such as Dek, the extended hours first go-around didn't have a quantifiable impact, since they tend to be very busy anyway.

Betty Davis, owner of Dek, said she is indifferent to the extended bar hours program, since she didn't participate in them two years ago and likely won't participate now.

"I don't care about it at all. It really didn't affect us in any way. It's pretty much wall to wall here on Friday and Saturday nights. I wouldn't notice any increase," Davis said.

Davis said it worked out well the first time because only two places were open and were in close proximity, and it gave her staff a place to unwind after a hard night.

"It kept the police concentrated in one area so everyone felt secure down there," Davis said. "And our staff had somewhere to go after work. It's nice to have it in a central location. If everybody did it, there would be no one to get off work and go."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional quotes and sources.



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