City council explores club restrictions

In the wake of a shooting last month that wounded five people at Club Manilla, City Council members voted Thursday to explore ways to impose stricter regulations on clubs that draw huge crowds.

The council also wants to know if it can add an extra layer of rules for clubs that admit patrons as young as 18 and fine businesses that don’t attend place of assembly safety meetings conducted by the Fire Marshal’s Office.

Club Manilla is permitted for 720 occupants, but council member Frank Reddick said he’s heard there were hundreds more there when shots rang out early Nov. 8.

“I know that you’ve heard that there was 900, there was 1,000. That’s talk on the street,” club attorney Joseph Diaz said. But he added that the city has never shut down the club for violating its permitted occupancy.

“We don’t want (trouble) any more than the city wants it,” Diaz said.

This year, Club Manilla, at 2620 E Seventh Ave., has had 282 police calls for service, police said. Less than one-tenth of them came from the public. The rest were initiated by officers on the scene or in the area who were reacting to something that was happening.

Monday is the club’s busiest night, and closing time requires police to send officers to the club to help manage the crowd. Seventh Avenue is closed for 20 or 30 minutes until the crowd clears.

On the night of the shooting, the city had 13 officers out of their cruisers working the crowd, police Capt. Keith O’Connor said.

If the city needs that many officers at a nightclub, the business should have to pay for those services, council member Lisa Montelione said.

Diaz said current management took over the club Aug. 15 and has tried to improve its operations.

While Tampa’s codes require a club that size to have five internal security workers on the job, Club Manilla has 14, Diaz said. It had hired two-extra duty police officers the night of the shooting and afterward increased it to three.

“We’re making a very, very concerted effort,” he said. “We had an unfortunate situation occur, (but) the operation that’s there now is not what everybody wants to talk about historically.”

If a club’s crowd exceeds its permitted occupancy, fire marshals can shut it down for the night and impose a complaint fee of $200 on the first offense, $600 on a second offense and $1,800 on a third offense.

“To me that’s not a deterrent,” council member Mike Suarez said, calling for higher fees.

Council members are scheduled to get a report on what additional rules they might be able to impose on Feb. 2

St. Petersburg Times