by Paul Bowers
Ready to weigh in on the Great Midnight Bar Closing Debate? Your time has come. The City of Charleston will host a public input meeting Thurs. July 17 at 5:30 p.m. in the auditorium at the Charleston Museum (360 Meeting St.).
The topic at hand is a proposal that would require all new bars and late-night establishments within certain sections of downtown to close at midnight instead of 2 a.m. Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and Police Chief Greg Mullen have said that the measure is needed to curb a growing crime problem in the late-night bar districts, while some members of the food and beverage industry have said that it would hurt the industry and provide an unfair advantage to existing bars that will be grandfathered in.
The S.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association has come out in opposition to the proposed ordinance, with the executive committee of its Board of Directors writing in a prepared statement:
"If passed, this ordinance would not only have a negative economic impact on owners and employees at bars, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and other establishments that sell alcohol, it would also decrease the amount of state and local sales taxes that would otherwise be collected, potentially passing any offset for that decrease in collections along to the taxpayers in the City of Charleston.
"If approved, this ordinance would have a chilling effect on the growth of Charleston's number one industry, tourism. Charleston richly deserves the distinction it has achieved as being the top tourism destination in the world. We as an Association strongly support initiatives to help grow our tourism industry. And by the same token, we strongly oppose ordinances such as this one which would create a playing field that's not level, set up selective enforcement, and stifle the growth of tourism."
The proposal passed a first reading at City Council's May 27 meeting, with the only dissenting vote coming from Councilman Dean Riegel. The city's Planning Commission is scheduled to take up the issue at its Aug. 20 public meeting, and Mayor Riley has said that City Council will give the ordinance a second (and potentially third) reading at one of its September meetings.