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City gives initial OK to limited late-night alcohol ban in new peninsula Entertainment District

Posted on May 27, 2014 by in Place

Bar sign

The Charleston City Council gave initial approval tonight to creation of an Entertainment District running up the length of the peninsula where new restaurants and bars would be banned from serving alcohol or even remaining open after 12 midnight. The ordinance was approved 12 to 1. It will go to two more readings at separate Council meetings before it can becomes law.

The ordinance, which was drawn up by Mayor Joseph P. Riley’s administration, says “Drinking Places” are barred from operating between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. The only exception that’s specified in the ordinance is hotels of more than 20 rooms. But Mayor Riley said at Tuesday’s night Council session that currently operating restaurants and bars are “grandfathered,” and that interpretation was reaffirmed to Local America Charleston by city government public information officer Barbara Vaughn, who said in an email this morning: “Existing restaurants and bars are NOT AFFECTED BY THE ORDINANCE.”

The ordinance would also require grocery stores, gas stations and other businesses that sell off-premise alcoholic beverages to close from 12 midnight to 6 a.m.

While residential neighbors are sure to give the ordinance their overwhelming support, some other key city constituencies are not for  restrictions covering such a large swath of the city.  Erin Perkins, a local write and editor, told Local America Charleston:

“I’m against this bill entirely. I think it harms the food and beverage community by taking away potential earnings. I do think that the situation on King Street on weekends is a bit out of hand, but I think there are better ways to control this than a midnight cutoff. An early cutoff will just lead people to drink more earlier and then head to other bars with later closing times.”

Perkins was speaking for herself, but her opinion matters because she  is editor of Charleston Eater, a well-read site that is part of a national network of more than 25 platforms covering local culinary scenes.

The Entertainment District, with King Street as its spine, would extend from Broad Street on up to the city’s border with North Charleston.

“This is big,” Council Member Mike Seekings (8th District), said last week when he unveiled the proposal at a meeting of the Radcliffeborough Association. Seekings said the proposal was driven in part by an ultimatum by three large high-tech companies that want to relocate to Upper King Street but are concerned about the boisterous, sometimes rowdy nighttime scene in the district created by inebriated revelers who crowd the numerous bars, pubs and restaurants.

“These companies are worth tens of millions of dollars,” Seekings said. “If the ordinance passes, they’ll come, If it doesn’t, they won’t.”

The proposed ordinance would exempt hotels with 20 or more rooms from the ban on serving alcohol past midnight to 6 a.m.

Seekings, who supports the proposal, told Local America that the chance the measure would be approved by the 12-member Council “will be close.” He told the Radcliffeborough Association meeting: “We have to make Charleston a place for people who are going to be here 72 years as well as 72 hours” — a jab at tourists and other visitors, whose nighttime behavior in the Upper King district — especially after midnight — is fueling increasingly antagonistic feelings among residents who live on the residential streets that are as close as one block away.

One association member said about the scene: “There’s this restaurant that has a garden in back. They were putting on music that, if I were 30 years old and didn’t leave nearby, I’d love to hear. But I live a block away, and I could hear the pounding through my walls.”

At a recent meeting of the Mazyck-Wraggborough Association, a homeowner called Upper King “the new Bourbon Street” — an unflattering reference to the tourist-magnet neighborhood in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans that, some critics say, is losing its charm to frenetic commercialism.

In an effort to better control what’s happening in the Upper King district, including on the traffic-congested thoroughfare, the Charleston Police Department is deploying eight newly hired police officers to the area.

For decades, Upper King was a mostly retail district, lined with clothing, furniture, hardware, notions and variety stores and newsdealers and barbershops. As many of those businesses began to close in the face of the development of malls elsewhere in the region, the vacated buildings — many dating back to the 19th century — deteriorated.

Mayor Riley’s administration acted to reinvent the district with a new mix of businesses — venues catering to tourists and other visitors but including a sprinkling of high-tech companies who would set the tone for the “knowledge” economy that the city government and business community seek to create.

Swelling numbers of tourists and reasonable rents attracted a new generation of hospitality-oriented business people who are turning restored buildings into often-packed, fashionably edgy restaurants and bars, some featuring live music.

But reinvented Upper King is also  home to the headquarters of PeopleMatter, the human resources software company that relocated its headquarters from North Charleston to No. 466 King in 2011 and plans to expand its job force there to 265. PeopleMatter’s office building is surrounded by restaurants and bars that start coming alive by 6 p.m.

Photo credit for bar sign: Bobafred, Flickr.


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