City eyes barring under-21 patrons from bars caught serving underage

Published: Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 11:12 p.m.

Bars that incur excessive underage drinking violations could soon lose some clientele.

A proposed ordinance, appearing before the Gainesville City Commission today for the first time, would prohibit patrons younger than 21 from entering establishments that frequently get caught serving underage.

"If you have excessive violations in the future, we will make you become 21 and older after 9 p.m.," said Commissioner Jeanna Mastrodicasa, who has led the effort to better regulate the city's hospitality district.

The expected vote today will be the first of two readings, and if passed the second time, the ordinance will take effect immediately.

Mastrodicasa emphasized, after hearing rumors of a growing opposition among University of Florida students, that the ordinance would not be an outright ban on underage patrons entering bars and clubs.

"The vast majority of our bars I think will not be impacted," Mastrodicasa said.

Rather, all bars would get a clean slate if the ordinance were passed.

Then, each quarter, the Gainesville Police Department would monitor the arrests at every establishment in Gainesville with a liquor license.

If during any quarter of 2009, however, an alcohol-serving or selling establishment has more than the permitted number of underage drinking violations, the establishment will be forced to close to patrons younger than 21 at 9 p.m.

The number of drinking violations permissible per quarter is determined by occupancy of the establishment.

If the bar, restaurant or business can hold fewer than 201 people, five or more violations per quarter result in punishment.

If the occupancy is 201 people or more, then 10 violations per quarter result in not being able to admit patrons younger than 21.

"I think that the city is kind of unaware of what a reasonable expectation is," said Mike Nabers, the owner of Rue Bar at 104 S Main St. "At the levels now, it could interfere with a business' ability to function economically. They should base it on a percentage of occupancy and eliminate the tiers. There's not a lot of equality with the way they are doing it at the moment."

Rue Bar has an occupancy of 252 people, Nabers said.

"I'm for the ordinance. I just think it needs to be based on a percentage of occupancy," Nabers said. "Also, everybody deserves at least one warning."

As the ordinance is written now, the first violation would result in a 90-day punishment, the second 180 days, and the third a full year.

In the last quarter of 2008, the Gainesville Police Department reported the following number of arrests each quarter of 2008 at Rue Bar: 19 arrests in the first quarter, 16 arrests in the second, four arrests in the third and six arrests in the fourth.

However, only arrests that are adjudicated by a court of law will count against a business.

The city attorney's office was working this week to compile information about how many of those arrests were adjudicated.

"There's a lot you can do to curb underage drinking," Nabers said. "You have to make it not your objective to function off of these underage people, other than the cover charge."

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