‘The biggest issue is safety’ Residents speak out about alcohol sales

Matt Algarin

Residents and business owners made one thing clear Monday night. They do not support the idea of reducing alcohol sales hours in Destin.

“You can’t clean people’s impulses up by telling people to stop sinning earlier,” said Frank Gordon, who works in the service industry.

Recently city leaders began to explore the idea of potentially reducing the hours alcohol could be sold at bars and nightclubs due to the increased number of incidents and costs associated with additional law enforcement.

Currently, alcohol can be sold until 4 a.m., based on the city’s existing code of ordinances, but City Manager Greg Kisela told his colleagues the ordinance could be repealed if that’s something they were interested in doing. At that point, the ordinance would revert back to the state standard, which cuts sales off at midnight.

“What we’ve seen over the last five years, about a 40 percent increase in calls for service in the harbor area,” Kisela said. “We originally believed, initially that it was more of a tourism base than anything else.”

But that’s not the case. The majority of the calls are related to those living within a 30-mile radius of the city of Destin.

“We can’t afford this,” Kisela said of the continually increasing costs associated with law enforcement.

The majority of the statistics the city has used in its analysis are at least a year or so old, and local developer Claude Perry says the city may want to consider waiting until they have more current data before rushing to a decision.

“No one wants to see people get hurt,” he said. “To push these people down into the county, into Okaloosa County, push them to Walton County, it’s not going to relieve the calls; we might actually be creating a worse situation.”

As the operator of one of the largest nightclubs in the area, AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar  owner Alan Laird told city officials that this issue couldn’t be problematic just along the harbor. Laird said the city’s overall success may have something to do with the problem.

“With the city being what it is, with the game comes the spoils,” he said.

Others spoke out on the topic, some saying it’s not the city’s responsibility to guide the moral compass. But for City Councilman Cyron Marler, the goal is to keep residents safe.

“The biggest issue is safety, it’s not about religion or anything else,” he said. “Nothing good happens after 2 a.m. to me.”

Data from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office shows that the largest number of calls for service in Destin come after 2 a.m.

Former City Councilman Larry Williges told the council one thing to consider is taking a look at the “open container” ordinance that was passed in the festive marketplace along the harbor district.

“I’ve kinda got a guilty feeling about that,” he said. “I feel it might have some bearing (on police costs).”

For his part, Councilman Rodney Braden said the city is trying to maintain a positive image, which can be tough, but he said the businesses may be able to police themselves.

“I would think y’all could deal with this a whole lot better than we could,” he said. “We are trying to promote a more family friendly Destin, not a town full of drunks.”

The purpose of Monday’s discussion wasn’t to change the actual hours of sales, but to open a dialogue, Kisela told the crowd.

The next step for the city is to meet with property and business owners in the harbor district and come back to the city council with a variety of options.

“We don’t want to take your livelihood from you,” Councilman Jim Foreman said. “We’ll take a serious look at this.”

Destin Log Editor Matt Algarin was at Monday night's City Council meeting and offered a live play-by-play of the discussion.

To read about the meeting, CLICK HERE.