Charleston Mayor Joe Riley is gearing up for an in-depth, year-long study on the impact of more bars in the peninsula's entertainment district by forming a representative committee to help steer the process.
Riley sent a memo to City Council members Thursday telling them about the committee and asking them each to select one person to serve on it. He will then round out the committee with representatives from the food and beverage industry, city neighborhoods, the business community and others. "I envision a good-size committee," he said.
The city's Planning Commission earlier this month voted in favor of recommending a one-year moratorium on new bars in the district that can stay open past midnight. That will give city leaders time to study how to best manage the growing entertainment district, which includes the Market area, parts of Meeting and East Bay streets and all of King Street, commissioners said.
Riley, Police Chief Greg Mullen and Tim Keane, the city's planning director, had asked the commission to approve a three-year moratorium. The concentration of bars in that area was growing too quickly, they said, and they were concerned that would be harmful to public safety and business diversity.
Riley said the three-year plan would have provided "time for a pause" in the growing number of bars. But a one-year moratorium is enough time to complete an adequate study, he said.
Riley, Mullen and Keane in May proposed an ordinance creating an "entertainment district overlay zone," which would have restricted some business activity within the zone, including prohibiting new businesses from serving alcohol after midnight. It also would have prohibited many businesses from operating between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., including food stores, gas stations, restaurants, bars and other establishments that sell alcoholic beverages.
That proposal drew swift opposition from the food and beverage industry. The city then proposed the moratorium instead.
Riley said he thinks Charleston City Council on Sept. 23 will vote in favor of the Planning Commission's recommendation. So, he decided to get to work forming the committee.
City staffers will conduct the research on the concentration of establishments that serve alcohol, Riley said. Then they will provide that information to the committee and get information and feedback from its members. "What you want in a city is for every commercial street to be diverse, lively and robust," Riley said.
City Councilman Dean Riegel, who has been critical of efforts to force new bars to close at midnight largely because he thinks food and beverage industry representatives hadn't been properly included in the decision-making process, said he thinks the committee is a great idea.
He already has selected Bill Hall, owner of Hall's Chophouse on upper King Street, as his representative. "He's a rock star for the food and beverage industry," Riegel said.
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.