Matthew Hensley was a pioneer among business owners when he opened Charleston Beer Works on the run-down upper King Street in 2003.
What they said
"I'm in total agreement with his (the mayor's) vision for the community. Despite the high revenues that come with restaurants and lounges, he's willing to look at the long-term effects and not sacrifice for the near future. "
Paul Stoney, president and CEO of Greater Charleston
"The closing ordinance is bad for business, but the way kids are behaving lately, they should add cops to areas besides King Street, like Spring Street. It's not necessary that bars close early."
Michael Bond, part owner of Dell'z Deli
"I've watched smaller local businesses get pushed out because of the rent that can be charged for a restaurant. I can't pull in what a restaurant pulls in. Which is not to say that you don't want nice restaurants, but having a nice combination of both would be nice."
Christina Mikolajcik-Edles, owner of Sweet 185 Sugaring Studio and Organic Boutique
"The mayor's vision is correct. We need more retail - family-oriented. We've got too many bars. It should be liveable. I've been to Beale Street and New Orleans, and if this became like that, we'd lose a lot of the historical texture."
Louis Smith, director of the Community Resource Center of Summerville
The street in recent years has sprung back to life, largely due to restaurants, bars and other businesses that took a risk in opening there.
But now, an ordinance which received preliminary approval from the Charleston City County last month threatens Hensley's livelihood by limiting when alcohol could be sold in a new entertainment district.
The ordinance passed the first of three votes 12-1, with only Councilman Dean Riegel opposed. The final two votes will take place after a public hearing is held at a later date.
Hensley has to move because Charleston Beer Works' lease wasn't renewed. He found a new location, also on upper King Street, and was set to start renovations. But his attorney advised him to stop because if the ordinance eventually passed, he would have to close at midnight, while established businesses that sell alcohol could stay open until 2 a.m.
"We have a unique situation," Hensley said. He hopes the new ordinance ultimately leaves room for some case-by-case analysis. "I hope they don't just leave us out to dry."
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Police Chief Greg Mullen and Tim Keane, the city's planning director encouraged council members to support the plan, saying the city had reached "a tipping point." More bars in the area could keep other kinds of businesses from opening there, they said.
And experienced city planners say streets with large concentrations of bars, such as Bourbon Street in New Orleans, are not good for cities. They favor mixed-use districts that include restaurants, bars, housing and other businesses.
Riley said the city will hold a public hearing on the proposal at the Planning Commission's August meeting, for which a date hasn't been set. "There will be plenty of time for us to consider this and for us to receive input," he said.
City Council must vote on the ordinance two more times, and several members say they expect it to be dramatically modified before the final vote because many people in the food and beverage industry and others have complained about it. Council members, however, offered few details on how it might be changed.
If the ordinance passed the way it's written today, new businesses selling alcoholic beverages in the heart of the historic tourist and nightlife district would have to close at midnight instead of 2 a.m. The district includes the Market a portion of East Bay Street, all of King Street and much of Meeting Street.
The ordinance also would prohibit many businesses within it from operating between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., including food stores, gas stations, restaurants, bars and other establishments that sell alcohol. It would not apply to eating and drinking facilities within establishments that have more than 20 living or sleeping units.
City Councilman Aubry Alexander said he has received about 100 emails from citizens about the plan. Only one of them was in favor of it, he said. "The rest were adamantly opposed."
One change Alexander would like to see is allowing established businesses, like Charleston Beer Works, to stay open until 2 a.m., even if they move. The ordinance now grandfathers properties, not businesses, he said.
Alexander, in an email to other council members earlier this month, said "quite frankly, I'm ashamed of casting my vote for the first reading of the late night zoning overlay. As usual, a last minute emotionally charged decision was demanded." But Alexander said Monday that giving initial approval to the ordinance has prompted a lot of conversations among council members, residents and the business community.
Council members have been told by city administrators that there are a lot of public safety problems in the entertainment district, especially on upper King Street, he said. But representatives from the food and beverage industry have told him that's not the case, and he hopes that can be cleared up, he said.
Councilman Keith Waring said many residents and business owners have reached out to him about the ordinance. "The vast majority of council members know something needs to be done" to modify the ordinance, he said. "It's clear the food and beverage industry wasn't reached out to in a way it should have been."
But the problems on upper King Street are getting out of control, he said, and the city needs to take action before it gets worse.
Waring said he's gone down to upper King Street around 1 a.m. to see what was happening there. "The unruliness has been getting out of hand for a awhile," he said. The city recently has expanded its police force, Waring said. "But you're not going to be able to arrest your way out of this problem."
Kathy Britzius, director of the Charleston Restaurant Association, said her group is taking a wait-and-see approach about the ordinance. Members are talking to council members and others, hoping to let them know how it might affect businesses. "We're watching everything really closely," she said.
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.
Steve Heilmanm with Charleston Distilling Company, uses a pressure washer to clean the King Street sidewalk in front of the business Monday morning. Some officials are concerned that too high a concentration of bars and restaurants along upper King Street will drive out residents and other businesses.×
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