To hear Charleston Mayor Joe Riley tell it, if the city doesn't act quickly to prevent the spread of bars in the peninsula's nightlife district, other kinds of businesses will refuse to locate there.

But the majority of people who attended a packed public meeting on a midnight closing ordinance for new establishments in that area that sell alcohol adamantly disagreed with him. Many of them commented on the problems that could arise if the city established two different closing times for bars.

"It's unfair. How can you have one bar up the block open until 2 a.m.

and another open until midnight?" said Chuck Lauer, a board member from the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.

He also said the ordinance would make it even more difficult for new bars and restaurants to succeed. Already about one-third of such new businesses fail, he said.

But Riley said that cities are ecosystems. "To remain healthy, they have to be nourished and they have to be carefully managed."

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.

Jim Curley, owner of A.C.'s Bar & Grill on King Street, spoke out against the ordinance, even though his established business could remain open until 2 a.m. It would make it much more difficult for new businesses to get started, he said, and he can empathize with those new business owners. "I haven't always been the grand old man who was established in the bar business," he said.

Riley told the crowd that he's not opposed to bars. "They are a good place for people to get together and have fun," he said.

But he's concerned that the concentration of establishments that sell alcohol in the peninsula's nightlife district, especially upper King Street, is getting too intense.

Riley's vision for the area includes a mix of housing, retail establishments, technology companies and offices, as well as bars and restaurants.

Many renowned urban planners share Riley's vision for thriving cities.

Riley and other city officials said again Thursday that the ordinance likely will be modified before it comes back to the City Council for two more votes. But they didn't say how it might be changed.

Councilmember Bill Moody said he thinks that if the city simply followed the laws on the books today, it might not need the ordinance.

For instance, he said, the city requires that certain businesses have sufficient parking before they can open. But often, the city grants exceptions for new bars and restaurants that don't have enough parking.

"The new ordinance would have a lot of unintended consequences," he said. "I think we can do what we need to do with what's on the books."

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.