CLEVELAND — Despite criticism from restaurant owners as well as from city leaders over his denying of waivers for bars to stay open to serve alcohol late during the upcoming NBA All-Star Weekend, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb is standing behind his decision.
87 Cleveland establishments applied for a special extended hours waiver to cash in on next weekend's festivities and stay open serving alcohol until 4 a.m. Of the 87, 80 were denied by the city of Cleveland. Just seven hotels were given approval.
Plenty of places are feeling left out.
“This was their coming out party,” said Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin. Griffin says he's heard from dozens of bars and restaurants, and shared their sentiment.
“The big picture is not just about hosting a basketball game with the best athletes in the world, but it's also about how do we showcase Cleveland?” he said.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Bibb says protecting residents and visitors of Cleveland in the time of COVID-19 is his 'number one priority.' "The pandemic has had a significant impact on the City and its public safety forces. While we want people to enjoy themselves, we must lead by example and put safety first," he wrote.
Instead of showing off a vibrant 24-7 city, conversation amongst city business owners has turned to talk to legal action and even alleged racism beyond the decision.
“The optics don't look good for a lot of these business owners when they've watched other big events, big ticket events that we've done in the city of Cleveland and seen the economic windfall that it brings,” said Griffin. “And then this event, that we know showcases the best and brightest of black excellence, and also just urban culture throughout the city, that they don't get the same opportunities that they've seen before.”
Mayor Bibb wasn't available to answer our questions directly, but his press secretary told us accusations of racism are unfair. Bibb later responded to criticism in a series of tweets. “As a Black mayor of a majority Black city, it’s insulting and unproductive to invoke racial politics in governing decisions and undermines confidence in our administration. I’m focused on doing the work,” he wrote.
Griffin believes that the city is up to the challenge of allowing its establishments to remain open later, despite the pandemic. "We have hosted these events before and they’ve turned out flawlessly. Council passed legislation allowing extended hours for “hospitality” to 4 am for “major qualifying events” such as the Republican National Convention, MLB All-Star Game, and the Cavaliers Championship Parade," he said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
But Bibb disagrees.
"This is a different time from the RNC and MLB All-Star game," the mayor said in his statement. "The pandemic has had a significant impact on the City and its public safety forces. While we want people to enjoy themselves, we must lead by example and put safety first. Not extending the hours is the right decision and in the best interest of the residents of the city of Cleveland and our visitors."
Sarah Johnson, chief communications officer for the city, said they aren’t sure more resources, either through money or security staff, could have changed the outcome. She said the city is trying to make a responsible decision around public safety and the pandemic, avoiding a new spike of coronavirus cases.
“We'll have an arena full of 20,000 people and we'll have other venues that will have several other kinds of large gatherings. So, some people feel like, you know, it's just not, they're not being treated fair and that this hasn't been consistent,” Griffin added.
Business owners 3News talked with agreed with the inconsistencies.
“I would challenge the health and safety, because Rocket Mortgage [Field House] just lifted their mask ban on the 1st of February. The NBA lifted their mask ban, but the city only feels that there's seven hotels worthy of that? I'm not sure why,” said Rocco Whalen, the chef behind Tremont’s Fahrenheit, who also has offerings inside the arena. For events there, the NBA will require either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test
Brian Gresham, managing partner at Anejo on the Flats East Bank, believes the city is just not prepared "We pay taxes here as a business for our police force and the things that the city provides. They can’t pull it off. Don’t tell me we can’t pull it off. You can’t pull it off. And that’s a shame," Gresham told 3News' Brandon Simmons.
Businesses also complained there was no heads up as applications were requested in mid-January, that this event would look different than those past. Many have sunk costs already on inventory and entertainment that now, a week out, can't be recouped.
With tens of thousands of people in town, the event is expected to generate tens of millions of dollars in direct spending.
Co-chair of the Local Organizing Committee, Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission CEO David Gilbert said in a news conference Wednesday, “The vast majority of that [spending] will happen whether bars close at 2:30 or they close at 4, and I think this was a balance of maximizing every penny that will be spent with public safety.”
You can read Bibb's entire statement below:
"Protecting the residents and visitors of Cleveland is our number one priority. After consulting with the departments of Public Safety, Public Health and the Division of Police, I made the decision to put the health and safety of our residents first. I know how tough the past two years have been on local businesses, especially the bars and restaurants. I understand the frustration of these businesses. I have and will continue to support them in their economic recovery along with the rest of the City, as we come out of the pandemic. However, this is a different time from the RNC and MLB All-Star game. The pandemic has had a significant impact on the City and its public safety forces. While we want people to enjoy themselves, we must lead by example and put safety first. Not extending the hours is the right decision and in the best interest of the residents of the city of Cleveland and our visitors."
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