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Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014

Tampa council scrutinizes new SoHo spot: Bar or not?


— The owners of a new SoHo restaurant backed off their request Thursday to expand their hours to 3 a.m. after running into opposition from neighbors and skepticism from the Tampa City Council.

The SoHo Backyard opened a month ago at 610 S. Armenia Ave. It’s current operating conditions, set by the city through its alcohol permit, force it to close at 2 a.m.

That closing time was a trade-off in 2012 for granting the property eight exemptions to city rules regulating things like parking and the distance from both residential neighbors and other businesses selling alcohol, said City Councilman Harry Cohen.

In 2012, council members cut the business’ parking requirement from 45 spaces to 28 and narrowed the width of parking stalls. They also reduced the required distance between The SoHo Backyard and its residential neighbors from 250 feet to 32 feet and the distance to other businesses serving alcohol from 250 to 80 feet.

Similar exemptions by previous councils over the years have led to a concentration of bars and restaurants along South Howard Avenue, creating a de-facto entertainment district now known by its nickname — SoHo.

Cohen’s district includes SoHo, which over the last decade or so has become home to hundreds of apartments and dozens of late-night bars and restaurants, despite a lack of parking and neighbors’ complaints about noise.

Cohen said SoHo’s growing problems with parking and noise will not be solved by extending another business’ hours.

“Why on earth is this extra hour important if this is a restaurant?” Cohen asked. “You don’t go in the right direction by adding an extra hour from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m.”

Council members and residents of the nearly Victoria Gardens townhouse community said The SoHo Backyard calls itself a restaurant but operates more like a bar. The business’s Facebook page identifies it as a bar.

“I’ve been in the place, and I see very little seating,” said Rich Romanski, president of the Kinsington Park Soho homeowners association, which sits 32 feet from the Backyard. “I see primarily bar.”

Tampa officials told the city council The SoHo Backyard is considered a restaurant because 51 percent of its sales come from food.

John Crusoe, owner of the restaurant, said he designed his business to look like a bar to attract the young people who frequent the SoHo neighborhood. Crusoe said his experience as as a sound engineer helped him organize the inside of the restaurant to minimize the amount of music and sound that escapes to affect the nearby neighbors.

The building’s facade includes an architectural feature — tall black slatted panels — that can be opened or closed depending on the time of day and level of sound coming from the business.

Cohen and three other council members weren’t convinced that the extra hour was worth the potential conflicts with the neighbors.

Crusoe asked for 30 days to give him time to talk with neighbors about their concerns. Council members gave him 60 days, though Chairman Charlie Miranda said he was unsure the conflicts can be resolved.

Here are other highlights from other action Thursday by the City Council:

♦ Gave first approval to a request by Metropolitan Ministries to vacate part of an alley bisecting the block between Amelia and Frances avenues just north of the charity’s headquarters on Florida Avenue. Metropolitan Ministries plans to build a school that will replace and expand its current charter school for the homeless children living in the nonprofit’s care. The current charter school has outgrown space it has used at the Tampa Heights YMCA, Metropolitan Ministries officials said. The request drew opposition from Hallmark Emblems, which lies south of the alley on North Tampa Street.

♦ Approved a four-month delay for the formal roll-out of Tampa’s Coast Bike Share. Bike share organizers had planned to start the bike share this month, but requested the delay so they can upgrade the technology used to rent and track the bicycles in the program. Council members also approved advertising on the kiosks that will instruct people on how to use the bike share program.

♦ Approved on-site alcohol sales at the AMC Theatre in WestShore Plaza. The movie theater requests the alcohol permit as part of its effort to compete for customers against other entertainment venues. The nationwide chain has been adding adults-only pubs known as MacGuffin’s Bar & Lounge to its theaters.


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