Committee’s plan to manage nightlife in downtown Chas. moving forward

Charleston police keep an eye on the crowded sidewalks on King Street.

Nightlife in Charleston could be both more vibrant and safer, according to a final report from the city’s Late Night Review Committee.

The 21-member committee, made up of representatives from the food and beverage industry, the city and neighborhood groups, has completed its final report on managing the city’s night-time entertainment scene and submitted it to City Council.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said he plans to implement the report’s recommendations, which include:

The city creating a special zoning requirement for all late-night operations that fall within 500 feet of areas that have residential zoning. The requirement, which would regulate trash collection, noise and parking, would apply citywide.

The city and business owners forming a nonprofit group to manage late-night activity.

Allowing some soft closings, that is, letting establishments stay open past 2 a.m. as long as they stop serving alcohol. That will prevent all patrons from pouring into the street at the same time.

Riley said he will move forward with the recommendations, including forming the nonprofit group. “It’s a very good idea and we plan to follow through with it,” he said.

The ordinance on new establishments that serve alcohol already has been forwarded to the city’s Planning Commission.

Riley didn’t yet have a time frame or solid plan for how the other recommendations would be implemented.

Charleston in September put in place a one-year moratorium on new establishments that serve alcohol past midnight in the peninsula’s entertainment district while the committee studied the best ways to manage late-night activity.

Earlier versions of the plan, originally launched to rein in rowdy activity on upper King Street, applied only to the peninsula’s entertainment district, which includes parts of King and East Bay streets, and the City Market area.

Elliott Smith, a lawyer representing the group BACE, which is made of 25 local businesses opposed to the original ordinance, said members of his group appreciate the how inclusive the process was. And they think the final report represents a step in the right direction.

City Councilman Dean Riegel, the only council member to initially vote against the moratorium proposal, said he’s thrilled that the committee didn’t recommend continuing the moratorium. And he supports the plan for soft closings.

But he has questions about how effective the new ordinance will be. “I’m not sure 500 feet will mitigate the sound,” he said. “I don’t know if it will solve the problems or not.”

And he doesn’t think forming a nonprofit group is a good idea, he said. The city already has ordinances and laws. “That’s just another layer of bureaucracy.”

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