Sam Allard / Scene
Mayor Justin Bibb speaks at Tower City in preparation for the NBA All-Star weekend, (1/31/22).
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb is standing by his decision to limit extended-hour liquor permits during NBA All-Star weekend to seven area hotels.
More than 80 establishments applied for the special event permits that would have allowed them to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. But Bibb, after consultation with the Departments of Public Health and Public Safety, said that limiting these late-night permits was in the best interest of residents and visitors.
"I know how tough the past two years have been on local businesses, especially the bars and restaurants," Bibb said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. "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."
Bibb's comments echo precisely the sentiments of interim police chief Wayne Drummond, who said Tuesday that due to the realities of Covid, the NBA All-Star weekend should not be compared to the Republican National Convention or the MLB All-Star game.
But bar owners who were irked by Bibb's decision couldn't help but draw those comparisons anyway. Many felt that the Covid rationale was largely a public pretext to disguise concerns about crime. Is Covid extra transmissable between 2:30 and 4 a.m.? Some quipped. Do seven crowded hotel bars represent safer Covid environments than 80 less crowded bars across the city?
Whether or not a special event "windfall" is a realistic outcome, Black-owned establishments in particular have been keen to note that the RNC and MLB All-Star game were much whiter events and dozens of bars were awarded late-night permits for both. The NBA All-Star weekend, on the other hand, is expected to draw a number of high-profile Black celebrities and Black people with disposable income to Cleveland. Some expressed privately to Scene that they suspected the "public safety concerns" from the police were largely related to this dynamic.
Council President Blaine Griffin reportedly met with Bibb Tuesday afternoon to relay the concerns of council leadership and local businesses. He released a statement Wednesday morning saying he was disappointed in Bibb's decision.
"[Mayor Bibb] explained his decision making, which is the administration’s prerogative," Griffin said. "The administration informed me and my colleagues that they had serious concerns about the health and safety of our residents, community stakeholders and visitors. We share those concerns... However, I believe in the people of Cleveland. I believe in our law enforcement. And yes, I believe in our businesses. Therefore, I’m extremely disappointed that we could not find a way to allow these bars and restaurants to have extended hours."
For now, the following hotels have been approved for alcohol sales between 2:30 and 4 a.m. on the nights of Feb. 18, 19 and 20: The InterContinental, The Holiday Inn at Cleveland Clinic, The Hilton Downtown, The Hotel Indigo, The Metropolitan at the 9, The Westin Downtown, and Betts at The Kimpton Schofield Hotel.
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.