City moves toward prohibiting minors from bars and clubs

Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 4:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 9:34 a.m.

Following through on a request from the Police Department, the City Commission is moving toward banning unaccompanied minors from bars and clubs in Gainesville.

An ordinance that unanimously passed on a first vote last Thursday would prohibit teenagers and children under age 18 and not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian from entering venues and establishments that have the sale of alcoholic beverages as their primary business.

The proposed law, which still needs to come back for a second and final commission vote, would carve out an exemption for restaurants making at least 51 percent of their money each month from the sale of food and nonalcoholic beverages.

Police Chief Tony Jones first pushed for the ban in a March 2013 memo to the City Commission. In the memo, Jones said he was concerned about the safety of minors who attend “all age” and “teen night” events at the businesses, particularly if the venue is near the downtown bar district.

“The mere fact that minors are being invited downtown for these events in large numbers and are mixing with large numbers of adults, who are often intoxicated, increases the minors’ probabilities of victimization.” Jones wrote. “While I am in favor of events for minors, I am concerned that allowing these events to be held in the vicinity of the large number of adult bar patrons creates serious public safety issues.”

Jones’ memo did not cite any specific establishment or incident for his concerns.

After his memo, the ordinance prohibiting minors from “alcohol establishments” was vetted in the City Commission's Public Safety Committee before moving to the full Commission.

Commissioner Susan Bottcher, a member of the Public Safety Committee, said support has been unanimous at each vote in the process. Bottcher said that, as a parent who raised children in Gainesville, support of the ordinance was a “no brainer.” She said events for teens are good, but they should not be scheduled at or near establishments where adults are consuming alcohol.

“This is not so much about underage drinking as it is about kids in an environment that they should not be in in general, downtown, late at night, unsupervised, surrounded by people who are drinking,” said Commissioner Todd Chase, who also serves on the Public Safety Committee.

Jennifer Vito owns the 1982 Bar on West University Avenue, an all-ages music venue for patrons and musicians that sells beer and wine. Vito said if the concern is underage drinking, she feels that is more likely to occur at a house party than a supervised business that checks IDs and has separate wristbands indicating who may drink and who may not.

Vito said 1982 Bar gives teen musicians a chance to get some exposure and experience and introduces teenagers who come to a show to the local music scene.

“It provides a necessary cohesion, flow, and growth to the scene,” Vito wrote in an email.

Vito said she thinks the sale of alcohol to adults brings in revenue to keep the business going and, without that money coming in, a teens-only venue might not survive or would have a higher door charge for shows to cover costs.

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