The mayor and commission pushed back last call for alcohol to 11:30 pm today as part of a negotiated settlement with a group of bar owners who have been suing the county.
Athens Entertainment Concepts LLC, SEC Entertainment LLC and other businesses which together own a number of bars in Athens sued the local government over the mask ordinance and the ordinance setting last call to 10 pm, which the commission passed on July 30.
11:30 pm is a compromise for these bar owners, who stand to lose a large amount of revenue from restrictions intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Athens. Last call for alcohol is normally set at 2 am here.
However, the settlement included other concessions in the bars’ favor. Alcohol license fees have been lowered during this pandemic as a way of helping struggling local businesses; the commission agreed to extend those lower fees to 2022. They also agreed to waive penalties and interest for late alcohol excise taxes throughout the duration of the local COVID-19 emergency (which is currently set to expire on September 3, but seems likely to be extended).
As of today, the Department of Public Health reports that there have been 2,166 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Athens, with 19 deaths. With UGA reopening and students now coming back into town, many worry that Athens will see another large spike in cases. Some people may even die as a result of COVID-19 transmission at bars, a possibility causing frustration and anger among some commissioners.
“They do have blood on their hands,” Commissioner Melissa Link said in reference to some bar owners who have not been following social distancing guidelines.
Commissioner Andy Herod was a bit softer in his language but generally agreed with Link’s assessment. “They’re more interested in making money than protecting the public health and I think that’s kind of pathetic.”
Despite their frustrations, the compromise passed unanimously among commissioners.
A truth about Athens’ economy is that we rely to a large degree on alcohol sales at establishments like these. However, bar patrons should be aware that masks are required while in line to be served, and you should stay six feet away from anyone you don’t live with at all times.
Bars should be at no more than 35% capacity — any bar packed with people is an extremely dangerous environment and is not following Governor Brian Kemp’s executive orders.
For the sake of your health and that of your loved ones and neighbors, don’t enter any crowded area, instead find another bar.
To see the settlement language and the new ordinance passed by the commission, check out Commissioner Tim Denson’s website here.