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Orlando council delays a vote on making bars pay for extra police downtown

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Tim Giuliani, president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership, told the City Council he supports an ordinance creating an extra-hours permit for nightclubs in the downtown entertainment district.

Downtown nightclub operators told the Orlando City Council Monday they felt blindsided by a ordinance requiring a permit for them to remain open from midnight to 2 a.m.

The permit would make some nightclubs -- depending on their crowd sizes -- cover the cost of extra-duty police officers on weekend nights throughout the downtown entertainment district.

After hearing from frustrated business owners, the council postponed until March 1 its vote on that ordinance along with a proposed six-month moratorium on new downtown nightclubs.

"I'm certainly willing for staff to have additional discussions and talk about if there's a better way to have a distribution of how we pay for all the manpower and woman power that we have in our downtown," Mayor Buddy Dyer said. "But there's no question that putting more police officers in our downtown has made the downtown safer, and then there comes a question of fairness and who should be paying for that additional manpower that's downtown."

The city is seeking to reduce crime and improve safety downtown, help other businesses there and create a different mix of business, including more daytime activity.

The extra-hours permit would require safety measures, including metal detectors and ID scanners. The busiest nightclubs would cover the cost of additional police officers patroling the overall area.

Orlando Police Chief Eric Smith said a surge in law enforcement has sharply decreased crime there -- but at an additioinal cost. Under the ordinance, he said nightclub operators together would foot the bill at about $2.1 million a year.

Monica McCann, an executive chef who is vice chair of the downtown Community Redevelopment Area's advisory board, estimated it would cost the the nightclubs about twice that much.

They, too, want more officers downtown, she said. "But we need to do it in a way that doesn't risk putting our businesses out of business. Under this proposal, it would only be a handful of companies that are paying for all of the off-duty police."

Tim Giuliani, president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership, spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance.

"We all know that people need to feel safe where they congregate, no matter what time of the day it is, including during the day," he told the council. "And people, by and large, don't feel safe downtown. If we want to compete globally. ... If we want to increase our occupancy rates in our downtown buildings, then you're gonna have to do something different."

Commissioner Regina Hill said the ordinance came up last week quickly, without a lot of discussion or input.

The six-week delay will allow for collaboration, she said. "So in order to have collaboration, you would have to meet and speak with others and consider what they're seeing and implement it. ... It doesn't work from staff briefing me and me needing to support staff in two days."

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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