Police relocation, earlier bar closing on tap

A proposed ordinance calling for earlier closure of bars and nightclubs will be on tap at Monday’s 5:30 p.m. Pine Bluff City Council meeting at the civic center, along with a resolution calling for the mayor to approve a police department patrol division relocation to The Pines shopping mall.

The police patrol division is currently headquartered in an industrial-zone warehouse facility on Commerce Road. The council — in a 5-2 decision on June 17 — approved the division’s move to the former Army Reserve/National Guard armory at 1000 North Myrtle Street, but Mayor Debe Hollingsworth vetoed the ordinance in favor of relocation to the mall.

Andy Weiner, owner of The Pines, addressed the council at the June 17 meeting and offered a 5,800-square foot space at the mall for the division. Weiner said he and other investors are willing to spend up to $100,000 for needed renovations. He said the city would not be charged any rent for the first three years of a five-year agreement he offered.

In the final two years of the pact, the city would be assessed “less than $1,000” in monthly rental fees. The city would be responsible for approximately $1,600 in monthly utility costs throughout the five-year period. The mall would be responsible for the site’s insurance, taxes and maintenance. Cooling and heating systems would be provided at no charge by The Pines.

Hollingsworth said that estimates on updating the armory so that it could meet the police division’s occupancy standards total about $700,000. The armory, given to the city by the Army, does not have air conditioning.

The mayor said she prefers a move to the mall because resulting savings would allow more bond-money investment in the civic center’s Joe Thomas Public Safety Building, which houses the police department’s administrative offices.

The resolution, which would specifically authorize the mayor to negotiate a lease agreement, is co-sponsored by Aldermen Bill Brumett and Wayne Easterly. The measure will be voted upon unless pulled from the agenda or tabled.

Brumett and Easterly opposed the June 17 ordinance, which was favored by its co-sponsors — Aldermen Charles Boyd, Glen Brown, Steven Mays and George Stepps and Alderwoman Thelma Walker. Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr. did not vote as he was absent.

At a June 24 town hall meeting, Mays said he wasn’t opposed to police presence at the mall as long as the same existed at the armory. Hollingsworth said that concept is “workable.” Also at the town hall session, Boyd called the mall possibility “a great idea” and said a primary reason he had supported the relocation to the armory was that he was unaware of the shopping center’s offer until the armory measure was slated for a vote.

After the June 17 meeting, Weiner apologized to several council members who expressed dismay that they had previously been unaware of the the mall opportunity. Weiner disclosed that he had “appealed directly” on the relocation offer to former Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones when he first acquired the mall a couple of years ago.

Weiner said he did not receive a “favorable response” from Davis-Jones, although former mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. provided “a tremendous amount of cooperation.”

“It was only with the new (Hollingsworth) administration and (interim) police chief (Jeff Hubanks) coming into office that we attempted to make the same request,” said Weiner. “Unfortunately, the move to the armory was well under way.”

The nightclub ordinance is to be introduced and is currently scheduled only for an initial reading. Hollingsworth announced plans for the measure during the town hall gathering, where Hubanks said police calls from the clubs double between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Hubanks maintains that “pushing back” closing times would result in fewer disturbance reports and traffic concerns, allowing officers to better focus on neighborhood patrols.

In its current form, the proposal — co-sponsored by Boyd, Brumett, Easterly and Hollingsworth — addresses commercial establishments (including bars, taverns, restaurants and hotels), private clubs, liquor stores and premises of the facilities.

The ordinance states that private clubs shall not permit the “sale, service, delivery or consumption” of any alcoholic beverages “upon the premises” between 1 a.m. and midnight on Sundays or midnight to 7 a.m. any other days.

It also says that no commercial establishment “shall remain open more than 45 minutes after the excluded hours of sale begin.” The exclusion times are 2 a.m. to midnight on Sundays and 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. on other days.

Excluded hours for liquor stores would be from midnight Sunday to 7 a.m. Monday and midnight to 7 a.m. on other days.

Restaurants and hotels permitted for on-premises consumption of alcoholic beverages would be allowed to remain open and serve drinks until 3 a.m. Saturday and Sunday during the weekend of the annual University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff homecoming celebration.

Penalties upon conviction of violations would be fines of “not less than $500” for each offense, with each infraction constituting a separate offense. Conviction could also carry a punishment of a revocation of an establishment’s city business license.

“It doesn’t matter to me what the council does,” said James Roberts, owner of the Creamland bar at 3502 West Sixth Avenue. “We close at 9 o’clock every night. We’re just a neighborhood bar where people like to come and have a beer after work.”