By John Schaffner
johnschaffner@reporternewspapers.net

Some Atlanta club patrons could get a couple of hours more for socializing in the future.

Atlanta City Council is debating a pilot program introduced by Dist. 2 Councilman Kwanza Hall that would allow bars and lounges around Auburn and Edgewood avenues to stay open until 4 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on Saturdays.

The program would be a test to be studied through the end of 2011 to see if it is feasible to extend bar hours throughout the city, including Buckhead.

Atlanta bars once were open until 4 a.m. But they have been ordered to close at 2:30 a.m. since 2003, when community leaders and homeowners complained that late-night nightlife was out of control.

Violence around the Buckhead Village area often was cited as a prime example of the problems created by late-night bars and clubs.

Council members representing Buckhead show little interest in the proposal.

“Why can’t we just take advantage of the present situation?” said Dist. 8 Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean. “I worry about the equity of having longer hours in some districts of the city than others.

“Some of the younger council members are more into it than I am. They don’t have children who are at the drinking age.”

Dist. 7 Councilman Howard Shook said he had been dealing with bar hours “every year since I have been in office.”

He questioned whether the city could legally allow one bar to be open until 4 a.m. while telling a neighboring club it had to close earlier. He said he did not know of any changes in the law that would allow the city to extend bar hours in one area and not the entire city.

“I don’t think there is much of an appetite on council for this. I can’t say there is zero interest among council members, because Kwanza keeps bringing it up. But my guess is that it won’t go anywhere.”

Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said police are looking into the effect longer bar hours would have on the department. “I have to look at traffic issues around those bars where we extend those hours and the resources that it will take to move people to their next location safely,” he said.

At the same time, extending club hours could help eliminate unlicensed underground clubs that are creating different sorts of problems.

“We are seeing more underground clubs that create a bigger problem because they are not licensed, they are not permitted,” he said. “We don’t have police officers working there at any time of their operation.”

Turner said people are renting places in warehouse districts where they operate these underground clubs. “Generally those are late, all-night functions that we end up having to take resources from somewhere else when there is an issue that occurs. That has been a challenge. They are not regulated.”

The council’s Public Safety Committee has deferred action on Hall’s proposal. The committee set up a task force to review and debate the matter.

Hall is pushing for extended bar hours in part to increase the city’s tax base. By staying open later, bars would have to apply for special permits, and they would generate more taxable income that benefits the businesses and the city, the councilman said.

Councilman Michael Julian Bond, who co-sponsored Hall’s original bill, has said he wants the task force to come up with a clear plan to help create an entertainment district, a concept he has been working on.

Bond chairs the council’s parking subcommittee, which is mulling ways to create special districts that would coincide with parking regulations. Under his plan, Auburn-Edgewood could become an entertainment district with special parking hours to go along with extended drinking times.

John Schaffner

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.