City’s Late Night Review Committee taps public for input

The Late Night Activity Review Committee is helping city leaders develop a plan to better manage the peninsula’s entertainment district, including upper King Street.

In an attempt to move from contention to consensus, the city Wednesday held public small-group listening sessions on its late-night plan for the entertainment district.

The three public comment sessions hosted by the Late Night Activity Review Committee were aimed at garnering ideas from business leaders and citizens on how to support a thriving nightlife scene while promoting diverse businesses and protecting neighborhood quality of life.

Margaret Seidler, who was hired by the city to facilitate the sessions, said committee members decided against holding an open-mic session. Instead, they had people gather in small groups at the Charleston County Public Library to answer specific questions.

Some of the top recommendations to come out of those listening sessions included: creating new zoning and parking restrictions and allowing “soft closings” — bars would stop serving alcohol at a certain time but could remain open for a while so customers wouldn’t all pour out onto the street at the same time.

Participants also said it might be helpful to offer incentives to businesses besides bars to promote storefront diversity in the district.

About 40 people attended the first session at 10 a.m., and few of them appeared to be under 30 years old.

The second and third sessions were better attended, and the third session had a full house, including more young professionals.

Elliott Smith, from BACE, which represents 25 local businesses, said his group is trying to get more young people involved in the discussion.

So the group agreed to pay for the first Pabst Blue Ribbon beer at the Recovery Room on upper King Street on Wednesday night for anybody who attended one of the three sessions.

People wanting to cash in on the deal simply had to take a selfie at the library and show it to a bartender at the Recovery Room.

The city formed the 21-member Late Night committee to help it develop a plan to better manage the entertainment district which includes King Street, parts of Meeting and East Bay streets, and the Market area.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Police Chief Greg Mullen and Tim Keane, the city’s planning director, first proposed a plan last summer to bring more controls to the growing district, especially on upper King Street.

That plan included an ordinance creating an “entertainment district overlay zone.” It would have restricted some business activity within the zone, including prohibiting new businesses from serving alcohol after midnight. It would have been a permanent measure.

But the plan met with resistance from members of the food and beverage industry, and City Council, instead, voted in favor of a one-year moratorium on new establishments in the district that serve alcohol past midnight.

City leaders are using the year to develop a solid plan to manage the district.

Seidler said data collected Wednesday will be compiled and presented to both the committee and the public.

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