Patrons at Michigan bars may have to stick around a little longer to make last call.

The Michigan Senate passed a bill last week that would allow bars to sell liquor until 4 a.m. on weekend nights. Under the proposed law, bars located in “central business districts” would still need approval from a local legislative authority by obtaining an extended hours permit for an annual fee of $10,000. Michigan law currently says liquor sales must end at 2 a.m.

State Sen. Virgil Smith (D–Detroit), who is sponsoring the bill, testified earlier this year that expanded hours would make bars more competitive and would help regulate bars that currently illegally operate past 2 a.m.

The Senate-approved measure will now move to the Michigan House of Representatives, which will consider the bill some time in the next two weeks before breaking for the holiday. Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said he would support the bill, since it would empower local communities to make their own decisions about extending hours for drinking establishments.

“If there’s an interest from customers to buy at those hours, then if properly regulated, there’s no reason not to allow it,” Irwin said.

Given the authority local governments would have under this new law, the implications the potential legislation might have for Ann Arbor bars will depend on City Council. The Council’s Liquor License Review Committee would be in charge of awarding the extended hours permits. Technically, the bill could pass in Lansing, but Ann Arbor could deny all requests from bars to have later hours.

“(The committee) will carefully look at the implication of this legislation for the City and, if appropriate, make a recommendation to the City Council,” Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2), committee chair, wrote in an e-mail.

Lumm also said the committee will consult with legal and financial experts, as well as the city’s police and fire departments, to better understand the bill’s potential implications.

The extent of the proposal’s impact on Ann Arbor residents and University students could largely be determined by what parts of the city are considered to be within the “central business district.” If that label only applies to the Main Street area, there might not be as widespread an impact on students as if it were also applied to the South University Avenue area, which is home to bars frequented more often by students.

The Brown Jug, one bar in the South University area, might not be so welcoming to the potential change. David Root, Brown Jug’s general manager, said he hopes the city will choose not to allow extended hours if the bill passes, due to safety concerns.

“If bars let out at 4 a.m. there would be issues until 5 a.m. at least, and police would have to be out in larger numbers for two more hours as well,” Root wrote in an e-mail.

The bill stipulates that 85 percent of the funds from the extended hours permit fee would go to local police departments, which could potentially alleviate some safety concerns.

Safety issues aside, Root also said he doesn’t think that the two extra hours of service would necessarily be good business. He wrote that he feels sales would just be stretched out across those two hours and not lead to increased revenue, but the extended hours would certainly increase operating costs.

While Root was skeptical about the bill’s potential benefits for Ann Arbor businesses, others feel it could be beneficial in other parts of the state, especially downtown Detroit.

“I think in some places in Detroit (the bill) would probably help their business big time,”said David Starzyk, general manager of Arbor Brewing Company, who has had extensive past experience working in Detroit bars. Starzyk did, however, share Root’s concerns about safety issues.

Despite Root’s concerns, Irwin said staying open later would still be of interest for some South University establishments, but cautioned that the Council “will have to weigh that with the relationship the city has had with those operators (and) with the public safety concerns that City Council has.”

Irwin also added that the University would likely want input regarding how to treat the South University area under the potential new law.

“I know the city is always clamoring for more input into decisions that the University makes, so maybe it could be an opportunity for the city and University to work together on something and hopefully that will be a place where the two entities can compromise,” he said.

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