City retools bar closing plan, asks for 3-year moratorium on new bars

By Gregory{}

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - An ordinance to force new downtown Charleston bars to close at midnight has caused quite a stir, but after talks with local businesses and a public meeting, the city's planning director has decided to make some changes.

Tim Keane plans to push for a hold on any new bars moving into downtown Charleston for the next three years. His hope is to have a diverse group of businesses along the upper King Street corridor and along East Bay and Market streets.

"We want to request a three year moratorium, to stop any new bars from coming into the overlay Market, King, and East Bay area," said Keane.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley says a three-year hold will give them a chance to regroup.

"We will be able to take those three years and assess the area, and how the heavy concentration of bars and late night restaurant affect the neighborhood and come back with a better plan to address the issue," said Riley.

The original ordinance, passed in May by Charleston City Council, grandfathers in current bars and restaurants, but would have forced any new businesses to close at midnight.

The owner of Charleston Beer Works says he isn't sure if the new plan is the correct answer but it's better than the old one.

"Putting in a three-year hold could be OK until they figure out what to do, but I think we shouldn't be afraid of growth. Times are good right now and we should embrace that," said Tim Maahs.

Keane says the number of bars and late night restaurants isn't a problem, but will be in the future.

"If we keep having the rate of new bars opening up as we do now, there won't be any diversity of businesses downtown and that's what we are afraid of," said Keane. "We aren't in any kind of way trying to take away anything from the businesses we have now, we just hope if the moratorium passes it will allow new retail to come and diminish the concern about this concentration of bars."

The mayor and Keane plan to present their proposal at the next planning commission meeting Aug. 20. If it's approved, it has to go back to city council for the final approval.