LANSING - (Free Press) Supporters lobbying for a bill that would let bars and restaurants in central business districts extend last call to 4 a.m. say keeping alcohol sales flowing for two more hours would make cities like Detroit more competitive with the likes of Chicago, Miami and New York.
"We would be attracting more of the type of people who are going for the entertainment type of lifestyle. We've got to be able to offer that to them," Nico Gatzaros, whose family owns Fishbones and the London Chop House, said in testimony today before the Senate Regulatory Reform committee. "In Detroit, we have so many things going on that this could help - the casinos, hotels, limousine and taxi industries."
The bill (SB247) wasn't voted on today, but it is expected to be taken up again in committee in the coming weeks. If approved, businesses would have to purchase an after-hours permit for $10,000 each year. That money would be distributed, with 85% to local police departments, 10% to the Liquor Control Commission and 5% to the local unit of government.
Sen. Virgil Smith, D-Detroit, who is sponsoring the bill, said he doesn't mind that it creates a competitive disadvantage for bars and restaurants outside of central business districts.
"In the city of Detroit, we're flooded with adult clubs," Smith said, referring to the glut of strip clubs on the edge of the city limits that would not be eligible for later alcohol sales. "I can't have clubs on 8 Mile staying open until 4 in the morning."
Smith added that expanding alcohol serving hours would promote a safe environment by either shutting down or regulating so-called blind pigs, which are makeshift and unlicensed bars that operate illegally after 2 a.m.
The bill would allow downtown bars and restaurants in cities with downtown development districts to expand the hours they sell alcohol to 4 a.m. Currently, those businesses must stop serving and selling between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m.
The Michigan Downtown Association lists 142 communities with downtown development authorities, ranging from the small communities like Bath Township up to large cities like Detroit.
The bill is opposed by the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police and the Michigan Alcohol Policy Promoting Health and Safety.
"This is a law that will promote heavy use of alcohol, cater to people who are already in trouble with alcohol and endanger many innocent people," said Marie Hansen of the Michigan Alcohol Policy Promoting Health and Safety group. "All the money generated by the permit isn't going to matter to the parent of a person who works at a local coffee shop," and has to drive into work at 4 a.m.
Ferndale Police Chief Timothy Collins said he could beef up patrols in the downtown entertainment district, which features about 25 bars and restaurants, if the money actually made it back to the city.
"But I'm not saying it's the greatest thing to do," he said. "If you extend hours of service, you would surmise that there would be more individuals drinking and driving and getting into bar fights."
The Michigan Municipal League also is opposed to the legislation because it doesn't include permit approval from the local towns. It also said the fee isn't high enough to cover the costs of additional police needed in areas with expanded alcohol hours.
"I don't think any fee can be high enough to allow this practice," said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, the former sheriff of Eaton County. "I'll be a 'no' vote."
The proposed bill comes three years after the Legislature passed a measure allowing bars and stores to sell alcohol before noon on Sunday. Since that law went into effect, $4,124,320 in additional permit fees has been generated by bars and stores looking to sell before noon.