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Local News

Last Call Might Come Earlier For Destin Bars

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Photo via Flickr//Nicolas Henderson
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https://www.flickr.com/photos/texasbackroads/

The City of Destin will be meeting with property owners along Destin Harbor over the next 3 months to discuss a proposal to institute an earlier closing time for establishments where alcohol is sold. 

For the city, it’s a matter of public safety.

Destin City Manager Greg Kisela spoke at a recent city council meeting,  "What we’ve seen over the last five years, from 2009 to 2013, about a 40% increase in calls for service in what I’m calling the entertainment district, which is basically in the harbor area."

Kisela says they initially thought the cause of the increase in police calls was more tourism based than anything else. However, that turned out not to be the case, "As we drilled down on those numbers what we discovered was, especially after the hours of midnight, that most of those folks, from the dispatch we knew where the address where the call came from, and the address and the individual that the call was about. So we correlated those and 82% of those calls for service were originated from individuals who lived within a 30-mile radius of Destin. And about half of those were actually folks that lived in Destin."

Kisela says the sale of alcohol is partly to blame. Currently, alcohol can be sold until 4 a.m, in Destin, based on the city’s ordinance that was put in effect in the late 80s. But, city leaders have begun a dialogue about the idea of possibly reducing the hours alcohol could be sold at bars and nightclubs due to the influx of calls to law enforcement.

Another aspect could stem from passing an open container law on the boardwalk. Former City Councilman Larry Williges says it might not have been the best plan and that the council should look into that being a contributing factor as well, "I’ve kind of got some guilt feeling that if there is a lot of police need along the harbor after midnight, and since I also helped put that open container law in effect there might be a good idea to take a second look at it and see if that has bearing on the increase and the need for police response. I certainly feel like it might have some bearing on it."

AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, one of the largest nightspots in the area has been a staple in Destin for 30 years.  Alan Laird, the owner and operator of AJ’s, says the city’s growth over the years may have something to do with it, "With success comes the spoils. Right now in this county we are about 33% tax-based. Destin, Florida is a lot more active than Niceville, Florida. Destin is a lot more active than Ft. Walton. And you look at the whole county yeah, and we just said by our statistics, our economics we’re number one.  With that comes some pain."

Laird adds further that out of fairness, the focus shouldn’t just be on the establishments along the harbor, but at the all restaurants and bars in the city, "Is this something y'all are looking to do city wide? Or are you going to put me at an economical disadvantage because I’m in the Harbor District? You get out of the Harbor District people cross down the road all got 4 am. This can’t be a Harbor District issue."

In addition to the plan to shut down alcohol sales at an earlier hour, there are several other suggestions in regards to the matter at hand. Council Woman Prebble Ramswell proposed instead of changing the time, taking a better look into private security for Destin establishments, "The ratio of arrests to calls, it seems that the sheriff’s office is actually almost acting as bouncers. When that’s reported back to me it says ,oh they’re either being ushered out the door and they’re all like you need to go get in someone else’s car and take off and go elsewhere. One thing we can do is look at security."

This issue will take a little time to be reviewed. The city will meet with property and business owners in the harbor district in the next 90 days and return to the city council with alternative solutions.