Residents tell city officials they’re against closing bars early

By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published July 18, 2014

The S.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association came out against a proposal that would limit the hours of operation for many new businesses on the Charleston peninsula.

During a public meeting Thursday night, Chuck Lauer, general manager of the Embassy Suites North Charleston and a member of the association’s board, urged Mayor Joe Riley and planning director Tim Keane not to pursue a zoning amendment that has already passed a first reading and has two more to go.

“If passed, this ordinance would not only have a negative economic impact on owners and employees at bars, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and other establishments that sell alcohol, it would also decrease the amount of state and local taxes that would otherwise be collected, potentially passing any offset for that decrease in collections along to the taxpayers in the city of Charleston,” Lauer said.

Tim Keane Joe Riley

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He added that the ordinance, if approved, would have a chilling effect on the growth of Charleston’s tourism industry.

“Charleston richly deserves the distinction it has achieved as being the top tourism destination in the world,” Lauer said. “We strongly oppose ordinances such as this one, which would create a playing field that’s not level, set up selective enforcement and stifle the growth of tourism.”

The proposed Entertainment District Overlay Zone would require new businesses to close at midnight, instead of 2 a.m., in the Market and East Bay streets area; King Street from Broad Street north to Poplar Street; and Meeting Street from Broad Street to Cooper Street.

Riley said multiple times during the public meeting that the ordinance would not close any existing establishments early and that businesses currently in the planning process or under construction would be protected.

“If we allow more and more bars to be located and you walk down the street at 11 o’clock during the day, it’s not pleasant. There’s nothing going on. Everything is shut down. There’s no retail activity; there’s no other business activity. It’s not a great street,” Riley said. “We need diversity.”

Riley added that the city is working with a retail establishment that is considering coming to Upper King Street that would likely bring more retail businesses with it. He didn’t specify which business is considering the area but said the quality of the street would be diminished if more bars move into the area.

Riley said when a developer wanted to open a Hard Rock Cafe in Charleston, he denied the request because he didn’t want Charleston to become “Anyplace USA.”

“We don’t need no Hard Rock Cafe in Charleston. This is a special city. We limited where carriages can go; we limited the number of carriages. I could go on and on. But the reason this city is so desirable in which to live and to visit is because we’ve been very, very careful about its ecosystem,” Riley said. “If the trend continues, you will create blocks of streets that are boring during the daytime.”

Keane said bars are a good and important part of the city. He said his department is working on changing the ordinance before it goes back to council for a second reading.

“We have an amazing collection of wonderful bars in this city. It’s impressive the variety of bars that we have,” he said. “The problem is a concentration of them in one area of the city.”

Charleston resident Marvin Oberman said he sees the proposal as a “crackdown or pressure on young people having fun and going out.”

“I’m afraid that the powers at be, being gray-haired like me, are looking at this thing as we vs. them,” Oberman said. “It’s a shame that we’re putting this pressure — through the police, through ordinances, through these activities — to stifle a nightlife that’s enjoyed by young people. I ask you to reconsider.”

Nate Lopes, who created CharlestonAfter12.org and is commonly known as DJ Natty Heavy, is also against the ordinance.

“People here don’t want this. We just don’t,” Lopes said.

He asked everyone in the crowded room at the Charleston Museum for a show of hands as to whether they were for the ordinance or against. Nearly the entire room was against it.

The city’s Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss the ordinance during a public meeting at 5 p.m. Aug. 20 at 75 Calhoun St. before the ordinance goes back to City Council in the fall.

Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.

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