Two LR city directors investigate 5:00 a.m. nightclub scene

Nine 5:00 a.m. clubs, one city, two city directors on a mission to see what they're all about.

Little Rock's board of directors has been mulling over closing bars with permits to operate until 5:00 a.m. at 2:00 a.m. citywide.

But Director Cazort and Director Fortson wanted some first-hand experience before making a decision.

Cazort said he set out on his investigation after some of the bar owners made claims about the sales tax revenue they generate for the city.

"One of the arguments they made was that they have a lot of business and generate a lot of revenue and therefore a lot of sales tax revenue to the city that we would be forfeiting if we were to close them down any earlier," said Brad Cazort, Ward 4.

The two city directors inspected the bars both on a Wednesday night and a Saturday night to compare both "normal" hours and "extended" hours. Cazort said there was definitely a difference in the crowds, but he wasn't 100 percent impressed.

"While there were certainly crowds, I don't think it was the numbers that I was being led to believe by the industry that would be there," commented Cazort.

"We have people coming and going at all times," commented Maggie Hinson, owner of Midtown Billiards, one of the bars in question.

Hinson said she couldn't comprehend how the city directors could accurately judge the crowds at the bars having gone to all nine over the course of one evening.

But the issue the city board has with 5:00 a.m. bars isn't so much their crowds as is the issues they create. Cazort said public safety is priority number one.

"I don't think there's any question of that," said Cazort. "I mean there's certainly a large number of police calls to all of these places after 2:00 in the morning."

LRPD reports 331 calls for service at the city's nine 5:00 a.m. nightclubs in 2013 - compared to 226 in 2012 and 234 in 2011.

But not all nightclubs are comparable. While Electric Cowboy had 95 police calls made in 2013, the Fraternal Order of Eagles only had three.

Hinson commented on how the numbers of police calls and the nature of the calls have fluctuated over the years. She said the issue, if there is one, has always been there - adding that her business must be doing something right if they've been in business as long as they have.

"How can you justify that someone has been in business for 30 to 35 years and now all of a sudden it's an issue," said Hinson.

Cazort mentioned in the interview that he did not see anything that required immediate police attention while he was out at the bars with Director Fortson, but mentioned he had spoken with off-duty officers working at the bars who made note of an arrest being made prior to his arrival.

Little Rock city board members are set to discuss the issue next on August 12.

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