Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle announced Wednesday he has asked the city law department to prepare an ordinance that would permit the sale of alcohol for an extra hour, until 2am.
“This is an opportunity for our city to stay competitive with other metropolitan areas and puts Omaha on similar footing as cities such as Denver, Colorado, that have a 2am last call,” said the mayor.
Gov. Dave Heineman Wednesday signed into law the bill that will let cities extend bar closing times to 2am.
Cities currently can allow bars to stay open until 1 a.m., making Nebraska one of just a half-dozen states with that mandated closing time. All the states that border Nebraska let bars stay open until 2 a.m. Those in favor of a later closing time say we're losing money to our neighbors across the bridge.
Extending the closing times until 2am will require approval from two-thirds of a city council instead of a simple majority. In cities with seven member councils, such as Omaha and Lincoln, five of the seven would have to vote for 2am. Five-member councils would need four votes for approval. The Douglas County Board would need 5-votes.
Mayor Suttle has discussed the proposed ordinance with several council members and is committed to working with the City Council on drafting the specific details of the ordinance.
“This proposed ordinance makes our community more competitive in attracting events that bring people to our city, which grows our local economy. This change is an opportunity for our city that we should not let pass us by.”
"I'm hoping the mayor will stand down from this ordinance and give the liquor committee time to operate," says Council Member Ben Gray, who wants to examine opponents' concerns first. "Just about every state has a 2am closing time around us and we are the only ones who don't. I don't know if we should do it across the board either."
Omaha has 700 bars and restaurants with liquor licenses.
MECA president Roger Dixon told Channel 6 News the bar closing time has not been a criteria in any event bookings the city has had or lost. However, other city leaders point out that visitors often question the logic of the earlier closing time.
Business owners like Brandon Henery, owner of The Michael’s at the Market, says a change is long overdue. “It adds up to a lot of money if you count it over 365 days a year, so you're looking at I think a substantial increase."
And not just in terms of his profits. "But also you're looking at an increase in sales tax revenue, which quite frankly, with the way the city's economy is and the way the state's economy is right now, I think it's a win for everybody," said Henery.
"I think it'd be a good idea as far as revenue for the city, it'd be nice to get it passed through," says Josh Gruhn of Omaha. "That way we'd have more people spending in Omaha rather than going across the bridge to spend money in Council Bluffs."
Gov. Heineman called LB 861 comprehensive legislation, saying he supports the bar closing time provision to the legislation because it provides for local control and local decision making that requires a super majority of the local governing authority.
In the past, Omaha City Council members Gray and Franklin Thompson have expressed their support for an extension but Jean Stothert is among five undecided, saying she'd have to see statistics on economic benefits.
“People will get drunker and if they do that, then your percentage of alcohol-related hospital admissions, violent crime, assaults against women, statistically nationwide it increases if people are allowed to drink longer."
It’s a concern shared by Michael Hall. "It gives people an extra hour to get into more trouble and it could mean life or death for someone."
“There's always going to be an incidence where people are going to be driving unsafe on the road, but less safe at 2 in the morning,” said Sherry Buhrmann. “No, I don't think so."
If the council decides to do it, the question is whether it will be across the board. The three person Liquor Committee will meet in late April to discuss options.
Also, what if the county board voted no -- and the city voted yes. There are places in the western part of the city where one side of the road would be open until one in the morning and the other side until two.
The earliest a new ordinance could go into effect is July 14.
When it comes to arrests, Omaha's numbers show the highest arrest hour is routinely between 2am and 3am. 1am to 2am ranks second. Together, these two hours are far more busier with arrests than any other time of day.