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Minneapolis extends bar hours citywide
Starting July 1st bars and restaurants across the city of Minneapolis will be able to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. The Minneapolis city council approved the new ordinance in a near-unanimous vote. However, the measure only won approval after considerable debate. Some councilmembers are worried about how the new hours will affect people who live close to neighborhood bars.

Minneapolis, Minn. — For over a decade, later bar hours have been high on the legislative agenda for the city of Minneapolis. City leaders and downtown business organizations see the longer hours as a way to attract more conventions which bring thousands of visitors ready to spend money in the city.

City councilmember Gary Schiff didn't question that position. However, he did wonder how a citywide bar closing time would benefit other parts of the city.

"I'd like to see the record that says that we advocated for neighborhood bars to stay open til two," says Schiff. "We talked about the tourism industry. We talked about downtown. We talked about competing with other cities our size and our class for convention business. Never once did I hear the Commodore bar on Bloomington Avenue needs to stay open until 2 a.m. for convention goers."

Schiff's ward contains several bars, like the Commodore, located close to residential areas. He argued against rushing forward to pass a citywide 2 a.m. bar closing time. He said more time should be taken to get input from people who live near those bars.

"If we have bars in one part of the city closing at two and bars in the other part of the city closing at 1, there will be a rush to downtown or where ever you're proposing we should have those bars open,"
- Minneapolis City Councilmember Scott Benson

The city's already held one public hearing.

However, Schiff says there needs to be even more time to hear from constituents who have concerns about how an extra hour of bar time would affect their quality of life. He read from one of their letters.

"It's obvious you have no clue of what its like to be a business or a residential neighbor of a bar," he read. "We own property next door to Popeye's liquor. May 4th, we had our front door smashed by a drunk. The business across the street had windows broken by Popeye's patrons. Yelling and arguing at late hours by these bar-goers is frequent."

Schiff also argued that allowing different bar closing times in residential parts of the city would be in line with other city ordinances which regulate how businesses can operate in certain areas of town.

However, proponents countered that the city already has ways to handle problem bars.

Councilmember Scott Benson, who co-authored the ordinance, says a non-uniform bar closing time poses a safety hazard.

"If we have bars in one part of the city closing at two and bars in the other part of the city closing at 1, there will be a rush to downtown or where ever you're proposing we should have those bars open," says Benson. "And that's not safe, regardless of whether the drivers are impaired or unimpaired or whatever. Having them coming downtown in a mob like that at 1 a.m. in the morning is just not right."

Several councilmembers who voted for the ordinance added that bar owners don't have to stay open later if they don't want to. Councilmember Lisa Goodman, who also sponsored the ordinance, says the market will help owners decide if it makes sense for them to stay open later. Bar owners who do decide to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. will have to apply to the city for the extension and they will have to pay a fee to the state department of public safety. The amount of the fee is based on the bar's liquor sales.

Some bar owners who attended the meeting were pleased with the outcome.

"We're a music venue and it's going to make all the difference in the world," says Gary McKenzie, owner of the Whiskey Junction. He says the fees will be manageable and the later hours will improve business at the bar. And he says he doesn't expect that staying open later will cause problems for people who live in the area.

"We don't live in a neighborhood," says McKenzie. "We've got the freeway on one side, the light rail maintenance yard on the other side. So as far as the neighborhood goes, we've got nothing within 400, 500 feet."

The new ordinance will be enacted July 1st. Just in time for the arrival of 25,000 Shriners convening in Minneapolis in early July.

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