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Charleston's Dewberry hotel claims $5M losses over rooftop rulings, asks judge for relief

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The city of Charleston’s refusal to allow The Dewberry to use its rooftop bar and meeting room has cost the upscale hotel $5 million so far, according to a legal document filed this week.

The eight-story, 155-room property opened in a former federal office building on Meeting Street in the summer of 2016. Publicity included advertisements for a rooftop bar called The Citrus Club.

Neighbors complained that they were aware only of plans for a spa and fitness center on the roof and not a bar. The Board of Zoning Appeals, which approved the original plans, denied a request to modify the plans to include the bar.

Owner John Dewberry appealed. Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson ruled in December that the zoning board was mistaken and that The Dewberry had the right to modify the original plans for the rooftop facilities.

The city then appealed Nicholson’s ruling, and the bar remained closed.

Dewberry’s attorneys asked Nicholson to clarify that the bar can open at least until a judge rules otherwise, given that Nicholson had previously ruled that the zoning board was mistaken in denying the bar. The city has argued that its appeal suspended Nicholson’s order and a legal stay was in effect.

Nicholson declined to lift the stay, meaning the bar would remain closed during the appeal.

Now, Dewberry is asking the judge to reconsider and allow the rooftop facilities to open. The most recent request, filed May 25, clarifies that the issue is not only the bar but a meeting space called the Rivers Room.

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"The hotel’s sales department receives inquiries on a daily basis for the availability of a conference or function room for a planned meeting or event," David Groce, general counsel for Dewberry Capital Corp., said in a court document. "Without the use of the Rivers Room, the hotel has been unable to book them and has had to turn away these groups also on a daily basis."

The hotel advertises the Rivers Room on its website as a space for up to 125 people with "sweeping views of the Charleston Harbor and Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge to the east and unparalleled views of Marion Square and the steepled skyline of the Holy City to the west."

Groce estimated that the downtown hotel has lost about $5 million in revenues from not being able to book corporate retreats, business lunches and dinners, weddings, rehearsal dinners and receptions over the last two years. If the stay remain in place, the hotel will have to cancel more events that have been booked.

The lost business is also costing the city tax revenues, according to the court document.

If the judge allows the rooftop facilities to open, no amplified music or activity would be allowed after 10 p.m., and plants would screen the perimeter, Groce said.

The bar would close if The Dewberry ultimately loses the appeal.

The city's legal department didn't respond to a request for comment.

Reach Dave Munday at 843-937-5553.

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