MYRTLE BEACH - A new law would require all businesses that are classified as a bar or night club to have a written safety plan approved by the Myrtle Beach Police Department.
Myrtle Beach City Council recently gave first reading to the ordinance that will enact suggestions that came out of last summer's meeting between the city's planning commission and Downtown Redevelopment Corp.
City attorney Tom Ellenburg said the ordinance would help bar owners and managers avoid potential problems as their establishments close at 2 a.m.
"Rather than deal with [business owners] on the back end, when it's almost impossibly to rectify because of poor management practices, this deals with it on the front end instead," he said. "This is an attempt to try to do this a little bit better."
The idea of regulating businesses stemmed from problems that occurred on Ocean Boulevard where bars close at 2 a.m. and crowds spill onto sidewalks and parking lots.
"The goal is to have managers think more about security as they go into this instead of waiting until police come," city manager Tom Leath said, adding that owners and managers say they're blindsided by the laws once it rises to the level of becoming a public nuisance. "It amazes us how many people come in and say they didn't think they needed to do certain things."
The ordinance is one of the steps the city is considering regarding the regulation of nightclubs on Ocean Boulevard in downtown Myrtle Beach. City Council put a moratorium in place more than a year ago that prohibits issuing permits to larger bars along Ocean Boulevard. This ordinance, however, would impact all bars and nightclubs in the city. It advanced on a 7-0 vote last week.
A bar, lounge, pub, tavern or similar drinking place would be defined as a "place of social gathering and entertainment primarily engaged in the preparation and service of alcoholic beverages onsite and with an open dance floor of less than 150 square feet."
A nightclub would be defined as an alcohol-free teen or adult club that is a place of "social gathering and nightclub entertainment activities or opportunities emphasizing live or recording amplified music in an [sic] largely unstructured dance club atmosphere" that allows an occupancy of more than 150 people and has a dance floor larger than 150 square feet, according to the ordinance.
Tony Carcione, manager at Moe Moon's Beach Grill and Chill on the boardwalk, said it's important to make sure bar, nightclub and restaurant employees who serve alcohol are trained to know how to deal with customers.
He said anything that is done to increase safety is a good thing.
"But Myrtle Beach has become more family oriented in the past few years," he said. "We don't have major problems anymore."
Last year, Myrtle Beach City Council asked the DRC and planning commission to review whether having large bars along Ocean Boulevard matches the family-oriented atmosphere that the city promotes. The council's recommendation was to limit oceanfront bar occupancy to 150 people.
The new ordinance will require all existing businesses that operate as a bar or nightclub to draft a written safety plan and have it approved by the police department within 60 days of the law's approval. All new bars and nightclubs would have to have a plan approved before being issued a business license.
Of the about 230 places that serve alcohol in city limits, there are about 25 businesses that received exemptions after submitting to a "higher level of scrutiny" to be allowed to serve beer and wine after 2 a.m. every day except for Sunday. The new law would extend those increased requirements to all bars and nightclubs in the city, Ellenburg said.
Additionally, the ordinance would require nightclubs that are part of a "nightclub district" and share access to a common area - such as the nightclubs at Broadway at the Beach - also would have to create a coordinated safety plan that would deal with incidents that occur in the common area.
"There are tenants that operate drinking places that share a common area where the discharge of offenders [from the nightclub] into an area that I refer to as the Colosseum - that is where the gladiators meet - cause issues," Ellenburg said.
Another ordinance that would have restricted bars and nightclubs on Ocean Boulevard to 5,000 square feet, effectively lifting last year's moratorium, was denied. However, council members expressed opposing views on lifting the moratorium.
Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means said she wanted to lift the moratorium and could not support limiting the size of any potential future businesses on Ocean Boulevard.
"I could never support this in a million years," Means said. "It goes against everything that we're trying to accomplish downtown. In the current economic climate, I just can't see us hamstringing someone from renting a [large] building they own or using a building they own."
Mayor John Rhodes said he still believes large bars shouldn't be on the boulevard.
"I just have a hard time putting nightclubs back down there on the boulevard when we had so many problems," he said.
But Means said she thought it was unfair to business owners who follow the law.
"If we have a problem with a location, let's go after the operator," she said. "Let's not hinder everybody else."