Officials: City at 'tipping point,' proposal would shutter new nightlife at midnight

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Charleston City Council will consider new entertainment zoning that would force new businesses on several major streets on the peninsula to close their doors at midnight.

In a letter signed by Mayor Joe Riley, Police Chief Greg Mullen, and the city's Director of Planning, Tim Keane, the group proposes creating a new zoning ordinance to create a late night district that would include Market, East Bay, King and Meeting streets.

"It is critically important that we effectively manage this area to ensure its continued success," the letter to the council reads.

At the next council meeting, officials will hear a proposal that would specify that areas zoned as general business, urban commercial, mixed use, mixed use workforce housing, and light industrial along the highlighted region would be restricted in operation from midnight until 6 a.m.

The proposal states that "land, buildings, or structures in the zone may be used for any purpose allowed by the underlying zoning district, except within the Entertainment District overlay zone."

The proposal suggest limited operation of gas stations, restaurants, and places that sell alcoholic beverages. However, the proposal makes an exception for places that offer alcohol or food that also house more than 20 rooms for overnight stays.

Officials say this would only apply to new restaurants and bars moving into the proposed Entertainment District. Existing companies would be grandfathered in, they said.

Donald Goodemote, the General Manager at Social Restaurant & Wine Bar, says if the ordinance passes it would be a step in the wrong direction.

"You could easily fill up at midnight. We do most of our sales as far as alcohol goes after 11 for sure," said Goodemote.

Goodemote says the ordinance could prevent investors from opening new bars in downtown Charleston.

"You're coming in at a very unfair advantage compared to all the other bars around you because you are losing out on two hours which in most bars nothing but alcohol sales," said Goodemote.

But Ken Emery, the owner of Burells Stone Fire Grill, believes the bill could be a step in the right direction.

"We've had some issues," said Emery. "Some of my managers have been injured late at night, so there definitely is a cause to look into something, but closing is a pretty drastic change."

For those out in downtown Charleston having a Friday night drink, they say you can't take away the main attraction.

"From an economic standpoint, I think a lot of people do come here for the fact that there are restaurants and bars and they are expecting them to be open until later in the evening," said Kathleen Hollan while enjoying dinner and a glass of wine at Social Restaurant & Wine Bar.

Charleston City Council is expected to have a first reading on the ordinance this Tuesday.

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