An elected official in Tuscaloosa is proposing a broad reduction of the operating hours of the city's bars in an alleged effort to shore up safety in the area.

The city council has already adopted a moratorium that, unless something changes, will mean no new bars can open in Tuscaloosa through the end of 2023.

Right now, establishments in Tuscaloosa must stop selling alcohol at 1:45 a.m. most days and close at 2. They're allowed an extra hour Friday nights into Saturday mornings and can sell alcohol from noon to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday.

On Tuesday, councilman John Faile proposed that alcohol-selling establishments should be made to close about two hours earlier on most days.

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"We're here today to discuss what I think is one of the most important issues we're facing in Tuscaloosa," Faile said. "The issue of public safety affects each person that lives or visits our city. We've seen reports of what law enforcement is facing around our city, particularly around the University area and the downtown entertainment district."

"While I appreciate the many responsible owners of alcohol establishments on the Strip and downtown, the problem continues to grow," he continued. "To change the culture of these areas in our town we must do something significant to change this problem. With so many resources assigned to the Strip area, the rest of Tuscaloosa is not getting their share of police resources. I am advocating closing establishments that are selling alcohol, whether bars, gastropubs or restaurants at midnight Monday through Thursday, at 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday and possibly an hour later on Gameday weekends."

It is worth noting that Faile's comments about this crisis came hours after Mayor Walt Maddox advocated for giving a $10,000 retention bonus to Tuscaloosa Police Officers with a presentation including a slide that boasts "Crime is down."

(City of Tuscaloosa)
(City of Tuscaloosa)

"This may seem radical to the bar owners, but we must do something different if we are to make a positive change for our city," Faile said. "I daresay to the vast number of residents in Tuscaloosa, this is reasonable, not radical."

Faile also did not mention that last Tuesday, the council was provided with public comments sent in from 26 residents who sought to weigh in on the matter. The city provided the Thread with those comments after a records request - all 26 were against reducing operating hours.

Innisfree owner Tripp Rogers and Michael Musgrove, a partner in the Rabbit Hole gastropub on the Strip, both spoke at the Tuesday committee meeting to try to dissuade the council from reducing the hours during which alcohol can be sold.

The duo said such action would only create boisterous, late-night house parties in residential neighborhoods, where whippet-huffing revelers will be far less safe than in tightly regulated bars. They said it would also gauge into earnings for the city's dozens of alcohol sellers, cost jobs, close establishments and decrease tax revenue - just as the local hospitality industry recovers from blows dealt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Faile did not seem moved.

"Just remember, there's 70.3 total square miles in Tuscaloosa and we're talking about our police presence is in about six blocks right now," said Faile, who represents the area around Loop Road. "Folks in my district pay a whole lot of property tax and I think Chief would tell you, there are times when there aren't any police officers out there because they're all down there with y'all."

TPD Chief Brent Blankley also spoke and said the police issue is not necessarily with the hours at which bars are required to close, but that all the bars close at the same time, and streets around the Strip and downtown are flooded with hundreds of patrons leaving at once. He said he didn't have a solution to propose, but said it should focus on alleviating that pressure.

No vote will be held about this matter Tuesday - stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread for updates as they become available.

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