Too loud, too dangerous: Downtown Orlando businesses, neighbors say police need to step up enforcement

Since the beginning of 2021, the City of Orlando reported an increase in both crime and noise complaints in the Downtown Entertainment District.  

A proposed new ordinance (2021-39) points out layers of issues in downtown:

  • Including loud speakers
  • Excessively loud music
  • Large gatherings
  • Overcrowded sidewalks  

The proposed solution to noisy bars and crime was read for the first time at an Orlando City Commission meeting Monday afternoon.  

The proposal also blames nighttime, outdoor dining as a contributing factor to crowding the public walkways.  

While Dr. Eric Mason, an emergency room doctor downtown, says the loud music from concerts keeps him up at night, he doesn’t think it has anything to do with outdoor dining at night.

"Rock concert loudness. Ten times over the legal limit. It’s hard to get the rest I need to do an effective job," Dr. Mason said, saying he supports bars but wishes the police would enforce the noise level laws already in place.

The tipping point was over the weekend when Dr. Mason and multiple other neighbors also living downtown say a concert at Elixir shook their condo walls.  

The bar is a few blocks away from the complex they live in.

According to those living nearby, as well as Dr. Mason, it’s gotten so loud the community has bought decibel meters to measure the noise levels.

In one picture taken by Orlando resident Alan McGinnis, decibels reach more than 100. The city’s noise levels are not supposed to go higher than 80 decibels on the weekend, according to its own ordinances.

"Orlando's downtown is out of control with clubs not held accountable to be way over the sound ordinance right in front of police," McGinnis said in an e-mail to FOX 35. "There's shootings consistently within feet of the police. People know it's a free-for-all. Bars break the laws knowingly almost every weekend. Residents and all other businesses suffer."

McGinnis also shared an email from the city’s communication office stating it is a delicate balance between peace and profitability.

"As you know, evening and late-night noise in downtown is very complicated and the city does its best to balance the noise between peace for our downtown residents and bars being successful. OPD and Code Enforcement work hand and hand to respond to noise complaints and violators. Our DDB team keeps the Mayor informed of issues affecting our downtown. The Mayor is aware that noise is one of the complaints we get about downtown," said an email read from Orlando's Office of Communications and Neighborhood Relations.

The email was sent in response to McGinnis’ multiple complaints to the city and police department regarding noise. It was copied to the mayor and area commissioners.  

"I just think it gets entirely selfish when you are so excruciatingly over the law," Dr. Mason said.  

The proposed ordinance also shows OPD has reported increasing crime in the past several months.  

This includes the shooting of a 34-year-old man in early May.  

Police say Joseph Torres was killed outside of a bar along the 20th block of North Orange Avenue after a fight broke out. It happened around bar close.  

Business owners tell FOX 35 they have had private meetings with Orlando police for the past three weeks in order to decrease crime.  

Usually, there are about 17 officers during the late-night bar hours but business owners say OPD increased their presence to at least 50 officers during May 14 and 15.  

But, the ordinance is going too far according to all of the business owners FOX 35 spoke with along Washington Street and Central Boulevard.  

They didn’t want to be on camera or share their names because they say right now there is a delicate balance in negotiating and they fear for their families' safety when it comes to the crime.  

At Monday’s city commission meeting, business owner John Dobson, who owns multiple businesses downtown, spoke to the commission during public comment.  

"If the music is too loud the music is too loud. Enforce it. But the sidewalk cafe? I think we are going to lose so much business and after this last year, it’s like a kick in the shins," Dobson said.

In order to decrease crime and noise, the city’s proposed ordinance would limit the amount of time for outdoor dining, completely eliminating cafe seating on sidewalks from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.  

If passed, the ordinance would also not approve any new permits or renew existing permits for outdoor speakers for the next six months as a study.

Downtown bar owners tell FOX 35 that taking away outdoor seating at night will hurt their business and potentially bring the rowdy late-night crowds closer to their doors.

What will help? More police according to the owners and better accountability.

Neighbors agree saying it’s not about the cafe dining, rather the enforcement.  

"The bars don’t have to go anywhere, it’s the lawlessness," Dr. Mason said.

Monday, the commission voted to recommend the ordinances for approval.

It will be voted on June 7 during Orlando’s next scheduled commission meeting.