Late-night committee recommends soft-closing for downtown bars

CHARLESTON, SC - On Tuesday, June 16, Charleston residents and business owners got to hear the recommendations for new bars, serving alcohol past midnight, in the City of Charleston.

A committee started studying ways to improve the downtown nightlife last year; after a one-year moratorium was placed on new bars in the peninsula's entertainment district.

Tonight, a public forum was held for the Late Night Activity Review Committee to present their conceptual recommendations.

Some of the notable recommendations include forming a non-profit group to manage late night activity.

The committee also wants to try a 90-day soft-closing pilot program for bars. Instead of shooing everyone out the door at 2:00am, all at the same time, bars can stay open until 3:00am. However, the bars will not be able to serve alcohol past 2:00am.

Michael Shuler runs two popular downtown bars, Midtown, and Trio. Shuler says when 2:00am rolls around, the streets can turn chaotic.

Shuler told News 2, "The only difference is you're not going to be shoved out the door, which sort of creates a little bit of tension. When you're shoving hundreds, up and down the streets thousands, at the exact same time, they are agitated and they're all looking for a cab."

That's why Shuler, and fellow Late Night Activity Review Committee members, want some real change.

"One of the things we think that causes that is you're pushing everybody out at 2 o'clock, I mean they're out!" explained Late Night Committee member, Larry Shirley.

"This is going to allow them the time to get where they need to go hopefully in a more controlled matter," said Shuler.

After months of public input and research by the committee, they unveiled their recommendations.

"It's the blueprint for moving forward," said national nighttime management expert, Jim Peters. Peters is also the president of the Responsible Hospitality Institute and said, "The challenge for Charleston is maintaining its success in a very organized way so that it can benefit from future opportunities and success."

Another recommendation is for the city and business owners to form a non-profit group to control late night activities.

"The best solution is what they're doing now and that's getting the right stakeholders together and figuring out, not only how to make one exist better - because you do have a very vibrant and successful city, but how to prevent it from getting out of control," said Peters.

Committee members also recommend a special zoning requirement for all late-night operations that fall within 500 feet of residential zoning, which would include trash collection, noise and parking control.

The committee will take public comments from tonight and use them to refine their conceptual recommendations. They'll soon make a report to city council in July.

Council will eventually approve a late-night activity ordinance.

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