Lakeland Commissioners consider closing bar doors to under 21’s

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City attorney Tim McCausland read several new ordinances at the Jan. 9 City Council meeting; no new ordinance gained so much attention as title 14-001, prohibiting bars located in the Downtown Lakeland zoned districts from granting persons under the  age of 21 years entry into any facility.

The City Commission will not take any action on this title, nor will they be taking any public comments, until their next city council meeting on  Jan. 21.

Most, if not all, bars in the Downtown area allow those under the age of 21 entry into bars. It is believed that the City of Lakeland wrote the ordinance hoping to end underage drinking among youth and reduce noise in the area at night.

At the agenda setting meeting on Jan. 3, the Commission amended the ordinance’s effective date, if it goes into effect, to July 1, 2014.

Many students of Florida Southern College will be affected if this new ordinance goes into effect.

Michael Zavolas, three-year owner and operator of The Socialite, a popular Downtown bar and dance club, feels the proposed city ordinance is unconstitutional.

“How can you tell an adult not to come into any establishment if they’re not drinking and you’re not serving them alcohol?” Zavolas asked. “If you’re underage and you want to drink, you’re going to find a way to drink. If that’s with friends or in a parking lot, you’re still going to do it. If they’re trying to control drinking and this is the case, then why do we have speed limits or traffic signs? It’s for the law enforcement to enforce it.”

According to Madeline Echikson, senior, “I believe that it will cause a loss of revenue for bars depending on the amount of people under 21 who are required to pay an entry fee. However, if there are not many under 21-year-olds entering the bar it wouldn’t make a big enough loss for them to care.”

Zavolas noted this type of rule was put into place in Winter Park Fla., negatively affecting businesses.

This brings up the issue, that if students under the age of 21 cannot go into bars Downtown, where will they go?

“They [Winter Park] noted that people under 21 began going out and staying out, in areas like Tampa and Orlando because they’re allowed into clubs there,” Zavolas said. “This pushes younger people to move because if they’re driving out of town so often they might as well stay there.”

Zavolas believes about 80 percent of people living in the Lakeland area are behind him, as he plans to fight the ordinance to the best of his ability.

“We’re a dance club, with entertainment, D.J.’s, we’re a place to have a good time with friends. It’s not all about drinking. Business will be affected and it will be affected negatively if people under 21 have nowhere to have fun in Lakeland,” Zavolas said.

A popular weekend spot for students is Kau Kau Korner, a bar and dance club on Gary Road. Some worry that the new ordinance will extend to the City of Lakeland. If so, Kau’s will be affected.

Caitie Coulton is a senior and bartender at Kaus, she said about 90 percent of her clientele are FSC students or graduates.

“There are about 10 regulars that come in almost daily and the occasional Lakeland resident that come in. I think this is just because Kau’s has a reputation of being the FSC bar. So many of the employees are or were FSC students as  well,” said Coulton. “The employers work well with school schedules and are friendly towards FSC students.”

Coulton serves anywhere between 75 to 150 people on a busy night and believes that the business would be adversely affected if the 14-001 title went into effect.

“I disagree with the rule because a lot of people under 21 come to Kau’s even if they can’t drink there,” Coulton said. “Their friends go there, they have fun, they can dance, and it’s a safe environment. Especially compared to other bars or other places they could go. It’s almost tradition for FSC students to go to Kau’s. Even if they are not allowed, they are likely to still try and get in and that could also lead to trouble.”

The new ordinance could possibly lead to deviant behavior.

“If Kau’s really took this law to heart, I think it would just increase the amount of fake IDs seen at the door considering Kau’s lets almost anyone in from Florida Southern,” Coulton said.

Echikson believes that partying on campus and also believes the number of fake ID’s will increase on campus.

“There are always rule breakers, I believe there will be an increase in fake ID sales, which in turn will inevitably cause more arrests in Polk county,” Echikson said.