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Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb stands by All-Star Weekend bar hours decision

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb arrives with Chief Communications Officer Sarah Johnson for a press conference at Tower City in preparation for All-Star Weekend in Cleveland. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb wears a mask as he walks through Tower City Center

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb is standing by his decision to limit the bars that can serve alcohol until 4 a.m. during next week’s NBA All-Star Weekend.

In a statement released Wednesday morning, Bibb said the directors of health and public safety and the police department all supported his decision.

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on the City and its public safety forces,” Bibb said. “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.”

A total of 87 bars and restaurants applied for a waiver to extend the hours they can serve alcohol from the 2 a.m. cutoff to 4 a.m. Seven hotels were approved. The rest were denied.

The decision to only issue the seven waivers came under fire when it was announced Monday.

City Council President Blaine Griffin issued a long statement Tuesday night, calling Cleveland a “24-hour city” where businesses have suffered from the pandemic.

“I also want our residents to enjoy the vibrancy of a 24-hour city,” Griffin said. “The cost of the tickets is not affordable for many but being out potentially interacting with celebrities and their peers is something many would’ve considered historical. And yes, many of these events often don’t happen until extended hours after the games and activities end.”

The response from bar owners contacted by Ideastream Public Media was mixed.

Timothy Higdon, owner of the Harbor Inn in the Flats, applied for a waiver. Higdon said the two extra hours a night was helpful during the Republican National Convention, the first time bars in Cleveland were able to stay open later for a special event.

“The pandemic has had a negative impact on us, and now this is just piling on,” Higdon said about the city’s decision. “I think they’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”

In his statement, Bibb said this is a different time than when the RNC came to Cleveland in 2016 or baseball’s All-Star game in Cleveland in 2019.

“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,” Bibb said.

Brent Zimmerman, owner of Saucy Brew Works in Ohio City, said he supported the city’s decision and only applied for a waiver in case some special reason to stay open late came up.

“Not a lot of great things happen at four in the morning, after people have been out drinking,” Zimmerman said.

But he disagreed with the city’s decision to choose seven hotels for the waivers and reject everyone else.

“I don’t support picking winners and losers like that,” Zimmerman said.

In a Wednesday tweet, Bibb said the seven hotels were chosen because they have the resources “to operate with their own security and protocols.”

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.