Largo may let alcohol flow more freely
Some leaders are interested in loosening the restrictions on places that serve alcohol in hopes of livening up downtown.
By LORRI HELFAND
Published July 25, 2006
LARGO - The downtown bar scene may soon be a little more happening.
City leaders asked staffers last week to craft an ordinance that would allow wine and liquor to run a bit more freely along West Bay Drive and Clearwater-Largo Road.
"The city spent several million dollars to renovate downtown," said Commissioner Rodney Woods, at a work session on the issue. "We ought to do whatever we can do to make it more viable."
There are about 10 downtown establishments that serve alcohol. And about half of them, including O'Houston's Irish Pub & Restaurant and the Largo Cultural Center, sell hard liquor.
City rules drafted in 2002 require almost all of them to sell more food than alcohol. The only exception is JJ's Sports Lounge on Clearwater-Largo Road, which doesn't sell food, but isn't required to because it was there before the adoption of the Clearwater-Largo Road Community Redevelopment District, said Mike Staffopoulos, community development director.
City commissioners want to ditch that rule, and another that requires establishments that serve hard liquor to be at least 2,500 square feet.
Edwin Houston, owner of O'Houston's, said easing restrictions will liven downtown.
"We need to bring more businesses to the area," Houston said.
Houston said he still plans to cover his patio area to meet the size criteria for places to serve hard liquor, even though the city may drop the rule.
Commissioner Andy Guyette said he brought up the issue because he recently stopped by O'Houston's.
"It dawned on me that this is really what the downtown needs," Guyette said.
Guyette said Houston told him about the planned renovations to meet current code. He said City Manager Steve Stanton also told him about a wine and jazz bar, West Bay Cabaret, that left the area two years ago because of the restrictions.
The initial goal of restrictions was to prevent wall-to-wall bars. Officials didn't want downtown to be like Duval Street in Key West, where some do the "Duval Crawl" from one bar to another, Commissioner Gay Gentry said.
She and other city leaders say the strict codes haven't enhanced downtown's image as an entertainment destination.
"We kind of threw the baby out with the bath water," she said.
But don't expect downtown Largo to become another Key West or Ybor City.
"That's not what I want," Guyette said. "I can tell you that right now."
Commissioners vowed to keep an eye on downtown to make sure the bar scene doesn't get out of hand. Part of their plan would require a 50-foot distance between the property lines of places that serve hard liquor.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or email@example.com.
[Last modified July 24, 2006, 20:48:06]
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