Revised bar ordinance passes

The city of Charleston's "Late Night Entertainment Establishment Ordinance" is not as restrictive as was first offered two weeks ago, it does tell bar operators how many security people they must have on hand and when their music has to be quiet.

Wade Spees

Charleston’s late-night bars will have to control a lot more of their crowds and their noise

City Council on Tuesday formally passed its “Late Night Entertainment Establishment Ordinance” — something the administration hopes will rein in the unruly behavior that’s become more common in recent times, including around the highly popular City Market and Upper King Street.

While the package is not as restrictive as was first offered two weeks ago, it does tell bar operators how many security people they must have on hand and when their music has to be quiet.

Mayor Joe Riley said the effort is needed to protect Charleston’s “brand” as a nationally recognized tourism destination.

Police Chief Greg Mullen added that without more controls built into regulating the city’s bar and entertainment nightlife, everyone could suffer significantly if one incident were to get out of hand.

“We all have a lot to lose if the hospitality industry is not successful in Charleston,” he said.

The effort passed City Council without opposition, though some members said they still saw some areas that could be better addressed.

Among the requirements:

Sites that play or offer music will have to close their doors and windows at 11 p.m.

Security personnel staffing is tied to maximum occupancy limits.

For example, if a bar’s occupancy is 100 people or fewer, it means having one door person and one security person.

Moving upward, if occupancy is between 401-500 people, the owner would have to provide one door person and five security staffers.

One of the security team can be a manager.

Bar operators have to “monitor,” not patrol, parking sites to prevent them from being gathering points. They also have to clear those areas 30 minutes after closing time.

Operators will have to keep the sidewalks free from being blocked by patrons waiting to get in, and maintain the exterior grounds to their businesses. This is less restrictive than what some bar owners had said earlier amounted to them having to outright police people outside their doors.

Another key change is that the main thrust of the rules will be in effect Thursday through Saturday and on major holidays or during special promotions.

City officials opted to exclude Wednesday in the just-passed version after some bar operators said the night is one of the slowest of the week.

Bar security personnel are not required to go through any sort of training, but they do have to identify themselves through a badge or other means.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, representatives of multiple downtown neighborhood associations and even some private residents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting to say the stiffer regulations when it comes to bar activity are warranted.

“We want to work with the businesses but something needs to be done at closing time,” said Susan Bass of the French Quarter Neighborhood Association, referring to bars emptying all at once. “It really is unruly.”

Not everyone was in favor. Tuesday’s approval came over the opposition of the Charleston Restaurant Association, which said the ordinance moved through City Hall too quickly and that the city already has conduct regulations in place.

“Education is the key to solving these issues, not duplicating the rule book,” Executive Director Kathy Britzius said at the meeting.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.