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Approve South Cape bar hour extension

March 16, 2018
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

On Monday, Cape Coral City Council will consider a revamped proposal to extend bar hours in the South Cape.

The ordinance would allow venues within a narrowly proscribed "hospitality zone" to serve alcohol one extra hour on Friday and Saturday nights as well as on five designated holidays.

Venues in the South Cape along and around Cape Coral Parkway and Southeast 47th Terrace would be required to apply for the Friday and Saturday one-hour extension to run from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. and would be responsible for on-premise security personnel and outside noise buffering. The extended hour permitting would be subject to suspension or revocation for failure to comply, or for "operating in a manner harmful to the public health, safety or welfare." The chief of police would have the authority to issue a suspension pending a hearing if he determines there is an immediate danger or need to protect the public interest.

As expected, the Community Redevelopment Agency governing board gave its nod to the measure this week, recommending approval by Council on Monday.

We recommend approval as well.

Hospitality zones are not a new concept - zones designed to enhance and support entertainment and the arts can be found throughout the country, according to the Responsible Hospitality Institute, a non-profit organization founded in 1983 "to assist communities in the planning and management of hospitality zones to create safe, vibrant and economically prosperous places to socialize."

Hospitality zones can provide an economic boost, according to the non-profit agency which, in Florida, has assisted Fort Myers, Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa and Tallahassee with "after dark" solutions.

"SOCIABLE CITIES WITH A VIBRANT NIGHTLIFE are magnets for tourism, conventions, residents and new sustainable industries," the institute states on its website, . "Cities throughout the world are evaluating the culture, economic and employment value of nightlife, and creating innovative policies and practices to enhance the social experience of sharing food, drink, music and dance, assure safety, facilitate transportation and reduce impacts on quality of life."

Allowing South Cape venues which choose to do so to stay open an extra two hours per week - and, yes, serve alcohol - in the area the Cape is hoping will become an entertainment "destination" is a mere toe-dip in the water,

We have no issue with the concept.

This does not mean there are no concerns. There are, in fact, two.

One, citing call, crime and DUI statistics from a trial period for an earlier proposal that ultimately failed to pass Council muster, the Cape Coral Police Department has expressed much of the same trepidation this go-around.

As well they should, using only the numbers self-provided.

However, with all due respect to the agency that has made Cape Coral one of the safest cities in the state, the number bumps in the categories listed might well be attributed more to proactive policing than directly to the extension of hours to 4 a.m. during the April 2015-January 2016 trial.

We would, in fact, be more concerned had the numbers not increased given that 1) an in-house, venue-paid-for police presence was required by the city; 2) grant-funded DUI saturation and checkpoints were employed and 3) call and police contacts stats include venue queries made directly to the on-site officers those participanting businesses were paying for.

As public safety personnel are well aware, the most dangerous time on the road - especially on weekends - is midnight to 3 a.m. followed closely by 3 a.m. to 6 a.m.

If these key hours, in areas where venues that serve alcohol are concentrated, are not already adequately covered, we have a much different - and serious - problem than an extra hour of service twice a week.

Address that. Please.

No one wants an unaddressed problem with calls, crime and impaired driving. Not at 3 a.m. Not at 2 a.m. Not at all.

The second cost is cost: Taxpayers home in bed in the wee hours should not have to subsidize another round served to those still out and about.

Weighing benefits vs. costs, we do not think that is going to happen - and least not if Council asks some hard questions related to proposed police staffing increases for the extra two hours per week.

The CCPD says it will need $158,440 in overtime for four officers and a supervisor in first year, which the agency proposes should be a new trial period after which time it would re-evaluate staffing needs.

We do understand the city expects multiple venues to apply.

We do understand those venues expect enough patrons to pay for their overhead and provide more profit.

But we don't understand how these clustered venues will require a police staffing level that could average one officer per participating venue.

Quantify that. Please.

Meanwhile, Council should also weigh the potential for an economic benefit.

The city and CRA have already committed an investment of nearly $13 million in tax dollars to the South Cape Streetscape project, which will widen sidewalks and beautify and improve the "walkability" of the district along Southeast 47th Terrace.

It would be nice if the taxpayers can get some of that money back in the way of additional sales tax revenues and "economic multipliers" generated by increased investment in the South Cape - a long-time goal.

Approve the ordinance to be presented Monday, extend last-serve time to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and the handful of holidays proposed.

Then enforce it diligently and vigorously, watching the costs.

Properly implemented, properly monitored, the benefits should outweigh any costs.

- Breeze editorial



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