The board of directors for Buffalo Place, the downtown-based economic promoters, have voted in favor of earlier bar closing times in Erie County. The vote, however, was split with four board members expressing opposition to the idea.
By a 9-to-4 vote, the board approved a resolution encouraging Erie County lawmakers to change the current 4 a.m. closing time for bars to 2 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on weekends.
It's an idea that has been pushed for the past few months by Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs, a Buffalo Place board member. Jacobs says earlier closing times will scale back drunk driving, as well as reduce violence linked to late-night drinking.
He told reporters after the meeting that support is growing for the idea.
"We've had supportive letters from the Allentown Association, Days Park Association, the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving," said Jacobs to reporters. "The New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association has come out in support of it. We believe we're building support."
Those who voted against the resolution on the board raised concerns, including the potential unfair advantage they feel it will give Seneca-owned casinos, which as sovereign territories would not be held to the new closing times.
Others say a downtown interest such as Buffalo Place should not be getting involved in legislation that affects a whole county. Among those on the board who voted no to the resolution was Barbara Miller-Williams, an Erie County Legislator.
"I, for one, say let's sit at the tables with those individuals," she said. "Let's bring law enforcement, city officials, et cetera, and address those unique individual concerns that those individuals are having, versus stepping out and saying, county-wide, let's take this initiative."
Observing the vote was businessman Mark Croce, who owns several establishments downtown. He told reporters after the meeting that there had been an agreement to favor a 2 a.m. closing time on weeknights and 3 a.m. on weekends, only for Jacobs and peers to then push for 2 a.m. throughout the week at a news conference held at Franklin and Chippewa Streets on October 7.
Croce said he is now "neutral" on the issue for the time being, but questioned the motives behind those favoring earlier closings.
"I don't know who to trust right now and I'm concerned that if given an inch they may take a mile," Croce said. "Businesses can't afford to go backwards right now. It's still a fragile economy we're trying to grow."