Past last call

Nov 19, 2003 at 12:00 am

State Rep. Bill McConico has a plan to attract more people to Detroit’s fluctuating nightlife: hold off last call for two hours.

The president of the Detroit City Council and a spokesman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving both denounced the plan to allow bars to stay open till 4 a.m.

House Bills 5201 and 5202 were introduced Oct. 23 by McConico, whose district includes parts of Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park, and Kenneth Daniels, a Detroit Democrat.

HB 5201 would give cities with populations exceeding 750,000 (Detroit is the state’s only such city) authority to create ordinances allowing establishments with Class C liquor licenses to sell beer, wine and liquor until 4 a.m. The second, more comprehensive bill proposes giving all Michigan cities the authority to determine last call as they see fit. Both bills have been referred to the Committee on Regulatory Reform, which may consider them in January.

McConico, 30, says he wants to bring late-night revenue to Detroit currently enjoyed by cities such as Atlanta, Cleveland and Chicago, which have extended bar hours. He says a thriving nightlife helped bring the Olympics and two Super Bowls to Atlanta, and Major League Baseball and NBA all-star games to Cleveland. McConico says Detroit needs to create incentives to draw people to the city, then keep them coming back. He’d like to see extended bar hours in such other nighttime hotspots as Hamtramck, Ferndale and Royal Oak.

“There are multiple factors that go into attracting a convention to come into town, such as hotel space and things of that nature, but also the image of your city and if the person coming to town will have fun,” McConico says. “If there’s nothing for them to do, they’re not going to want to go. We want to make Detroit a destination city just like Chicago is.

“I know people here in Detroit who travel to Chicago and go to certain parties, and one of the reasons is they’re known to stay open later and have a thriving downtown and things to do.

“If we are going to become the hip, cool city that [Gov. Jennifer] Granholm and Mayor [Kwame] Kilpatrick speak of, then we need to have in place options for young people to move back to the region and make things attractive to come home and stay here.”

The bills were introduced simultaneously in the hope that if one failed, the other might still have a fighting chance, McConico says.

“We wanted to go statewide, but if that’s not feasible we’re trying to do it where Detroit has the options. I think we have a better shot at doing it in Detroit only, but I want to do it statewide,” he says.

McConico, who sits on the Super Bowl XL Host Committee, denies any influence by the committee or Detroit’s three casinos in pushing for later liquor sales in Detroit.

“That is something that no one asked me to do,” he says. “That’s just something that happened — that I am on the government relations committee for the Super Bowl Committee. I travel a lot across the country and this is something I notice. The casinos were not even in my thought process when I thought of these bills. The casinos would benefit, but I thought of this to benefit restaurants and bars and clubs.”

Daniels did not return phone calls.

Rep. Sal Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, chair of the House Committee on Regulatory Reform, says no discussion of McConico’s bills has been scheduled.

“There’s nothing on the immediate horizon on those bills,” Rocca says. “I may look at them after the first of the year. What I want to do is look at the issue in its totality.”

Rocca says the legislation potentially pits extended-hours bars against those prohibited to stay open later in adjacent communities.

“It’s not as clear-cut an issue as it appears,” Rocca says. “If we take this issue up and give it the serious consideration that some people are asking, we have to make sure we create the balance.”

Detroit City Council President Maryann Mahaffey says the legislation would be a step backward for Detroit. Mahaffey says the council has yet to discuss the concept as a means to boost the city’s revenue.

“I think that there’s enough opportunity without having to make for even later hours, and there’s all the ancillary possibilities of problems that arise from alcohol,” she says. “I don’t know the thinking behind it. For some, it might be the opportunity for the bars to earn more. I don’t know how much more that’s going to mean for the city as far as city services.

“I think one of the questions would be: Is this designed so Detroit can do it and nobody else has to, so that we can then become known as Sin City? I don’t want my city, which has always been known as a family city, to be known as Sin City. I’m interested in attracting families with children.”

Liz Boyd, spokeswoman for Gov. Jennifer Granholm, says the governor has not yet reviewed the bills or taken a position on the proposals.

McConico says he has not discussed extended bar hours with Kilpatrick.

“I don’t make it a practice to normally bring my bills past the mayor,” McConico says. “On this issue I did not have any consultation with him. This is not something I felt [I] needed to run by him, or something he would come out in opposition to.

“The mayor has been very outspoken on wanting to change the image of the city. I think this goes right in line with this vision. If that’s not the case, I’m pretty sure the mayor will let me know and we’ll take it from there.”

Howard J. Hughey, spokesman for Kilpatrick, says the mayor has not made an official statement on the measures.

“I’m very positive the mayor has knowledge of it. I don’t know that he’s taken an official stance on this proposed legislation. What his stance may or may not be, I don’t know. He’s out of town,” Hughey says. “The mayor knows what’s going on in Lansing, especially what’s going on in Detroit. We haven’t had a reason to have that discussion, that’s the reality of it.”

Representatives from MGM Grand Detroit and Greektown Casino were mostly unaware of the initiative. Yvette Monet, public affairs manager for MGM Mirage in Las Vagas, said her company was happy with current bar hours at the Detroit casino.

“At MGM Grand Detroit we’re satisfied with the way the law is right now restricting drinking until 2 a.m. It is a very successful bar and restaurant operation at the casino right now,” Monet says.

Roger Martin, president of Rossman Martin & Associates, the firm representing Greektown Casino, says that facility has not taken a stance on the bills. Martin says the casino would support the concept if it produced increased sales and was properly regulated by the state.

Homer Smith, executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Michigan, is convinced later liquor sales would increase the number of drunks on Michigan’s roads. MADD has not yet made an official statement or organized efforts against the measures.

“It is something that in view of positions we’ve taken in the past would be a step backward. Expanding the number of hours gives people longer time to drink and it only really exacerbates the problem,” Smith said. “Alcohol does not leave the body that quickly. MADD does agree with the right of adults to drink responsibly, but we do not believe this would help them to do that.”

Chris Behnan is a Metro Times editorial intern. E-mail [email protected]