Bar and restaurant owners in St. Augustine feel they've been left out of a discussion about late-night operations.Bar and restaurant owners in St. Augustine feel they've been left out of a discussion about late-night operations.
Bar and restaurant owners in St. Augustine feel they've been left out of a discussion about late-night operations. | News4Jax

Late-night bar restrictions spark debate in St. Augustine

Published on August 10, 2023 at 4:30 pm

A proposal to restrict late-night bars is roiling businesses and townspeople in St. Augustine, one of Northeast Florida’s busiest tourist and entertainment centers.

The city is considering whether to require that bars and restaurants obtain permits to operate between midnight and 2 a.m., part of an attempt to stifle unruly behavior late at night.

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Businesses would need proper security, such as cameras or guards, and at least one server would need to complete training about alcohol abuse and Florida law.

Similar ideas have been raised in the past, but many business owners contend that the city is forging ahead without involving them and that the public is on their side. They’re asking to be involved in the process.

A workshop has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 21 at City Hall. City commissioners plan to attend, but they’ve already gotten an earful.

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When City Planning and Building Director Amy Skinner presented the ordinance to the commission July 24, a number of people spoke against it. Chris Fulmer, co-organizer of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, was one of them.

“It looks like once again that the stakeholders have not been involved in the process,” she told the commission. “I would have thought that you … would have talked to the actual people who were involved in it. There are some unhappy people here.”

Travis Sheltra, co-owner of Prohibition Kitchen in St. Augustine, reminded the commission that the hospitality industry is the city’s No. 1 employer. Any proposal that affects the industry should include discussion with those who own and work there, he said.

“On top of that, we are not just here representing owners, management and staff, but also the public,” Sheltra said. “None of us would be here if there wasn’t a huge demand. In summary, your decision here is supposed to represent the people of St. Augustine, and I am here to share that that same voice is what we are here representing. And I believe that since we all want the same goal, we can achieve it outside of governmental interference.”

City Commissioner Cynthia Garris said she has received lots of emails and comments from businesses.

“There’s a concern about this change in their livelihood and so much money that they invest in this city from their businesses,” Garris said. “We need to get that side of the coin before can move forward to see what is best and come up with some kind of solutions.”

As it stands now, alcohol sales are allowed until 2 a.m., with last call at 1:30 a.m. But the proposed nightlife ordinance says late-night partying has led to more police calls, more trash, drunken behavior and people relieving themselves in public.

The ordinance would mandate that bars close at midnight unless they get a permit for alcohol sales between midnight and 2 a.m.

The city manager would review each application to ensure that the bar has proof that at least one of its servers has completed a Responsible Beverage Service Program. The program teaches about the effects of alcohol on the body, the dangerous of combining alcohol and other drugs, ways to cut off service to troublesome customers and state laws regarding drunken driving and alcohol sales to minors.

The idea of restricting late-night business was first suggested about two years ago because of overconsumption after hours in the downtown area,” Skinner said at the meeting July 24.

A scaled-back version of the legislation, mainly addressing the permit requirement, reached the commission last month but did not get enough votes to move forward. City officials then set up the workshop to hear ideas from residents and business owners to determine whether to reintroduce the proposal.

City Commissioner Roxanne Horvath said she did not think this was an “onerous kind of permitting.” “It doesn’t mean that people can’t stay open until 2 a.m.,” she said. “It just means that they need to be permitted.”

City Attorney Isabelle Lopez responded: “It does have certain requirements for the permitting and certain penalties if you violate some of those requirements. I think you heard some of the concerns about that tonight.”

Skinner will present an overview of the proposed ordinance at the workshop Aug. 21 and outline the primary concerns it aims to address, with public comments allowed as well.


author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.
author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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