If you go
What: Public meeting on late-night bar closing ordinance
When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Auditorium, Charleston Museum, 360 Meeting St.
Charleston City Council acted too quickly when it gave initial approval to an ordinance that would require new bars in the peninsula's entertainment district to close at midnight instead of 2 a.m., says Chairman Bill Moody.
The group simply didn't have enough information on the ordinance when it voted in favor of it May 27, and the problems it was supposed to solve were not clearly defined, Moody said.
Many members of the city's bar and restaurant industry have said they also think the ordinance is flawed. And they will have the opportunity to voice their concerns at a public meeting on the matter Thursday.
"If I had to do it again, I wouldn't do it this way," Moody said.
Council members voted 12-1 to support the ordinance largely because Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Police Chief Greg Mullen and Tim Keane, the city's planning director, said the area had reached a "tipping point." More bars in the area could keep other kinds of businesses from opening there, they said. Only Councilman Dean Riegel was opposed.
The final two votes will take place after the city's Planning Commission weighs in Aug. 20.
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 restaurant and bars in establishments, such as hotels, that have more than 20 living or sleeping units.
Elliott Smith, a lawyer from BACE, a group that represents 18 local businesses, said he expects many people to attend Thursday's meeting.
His group has several concerns, he said. First, he said, the city hasn't been specific about the problems it's trying to solve.
And, Smith said, he has warned members that even though they are established businesses that wouldn't initially be required to close at midnight, they may not be safe. Such grandfather clauses are "a tool designed from its inception to slowly phase out that use," he said. "It's like getting a pass that can be revoked under a variety of circumstances."
Riegel said members of the food and beverage industry should have been consulted before council voted on the ordinance. Several years ago, city officials encouraged them to open their doors on upper King Street. "They put their blood, sweat and tears and their money into it," he said. It simply isn't fair to attempt such a sweeping change without including them in the conversation.
Moody said that after having some time to think about it, he's not sure the ordinance is needed. Nightlife districts tend to move, he said. "As upper King Street becomes more upscale, the price of drinks will go up and people will go somewhere else looking for a cheap beer."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.
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