by Paul Bowers
College girls peeing on the sidewalks. Rowdy bargoers parking in neighborhoods. Hedonism gone rampant in the bar districts. These were some of the complaints the organizers of a late-night policy forum heard from downtown residents this week.
Throughout the day on Wednesday, the city of Charleston's Late-Night Activity Review Committee hosted three input meetings for anyone and everyone to weigh in on the state of the late-night entertainment and restaurant industry. At the midday meeting at the downtown Charleston County Public Library, about 30 people showed up, ranging from longtime homeowners to restaurant workers to plain old bar patrons.
Like several late-night business owners in the room, King Dusko owner McKenzie Eddy expressed concern that some new restrictions on venues like hers could squelch the burgeoning young creative community downtown. "I think it's an opportunity to expand the city's brand," Eddy said, "because right now it's focused on nostalgia."
The event's organizers estimate that a total of 160 people, including the 21 committee members, turned out for the meetings on Wednesday. At the end of the meeting, moderators asked the attendees to make some policy suggestions. A moderator said the city will eventually post all of the ideas generated on the city's website.
Here are 18 ideas that moderators wrote down at Wednesday's midday meeting:
• City take control of liquor licenses, not state
• Improve the flow of people downtown
• Improve and expand public transportation and parking areas
• Disincentivize hedonism
• Soft closing — no alcohol after 2:00, stay open after 4:00
• Inventory of existing regulations — how effective have they been?
• Create economic incentives for bars and restaurants to expand out and incentives for other businesses to open in town
• Develop a corridor to route late-night customers away from neighborhoods
• Expand TIPS (safe server training)
• Raise entry age into establishments to reduce underage drinking
• Increase bathroom facilities
• Increase non-alcoholic eateries (ex: Huddle House)
• Increase availability of taxis on Upper King
• No parking variances for late-night establishments
• More trash cans
• Limit alcohol licenses. Include ability to resell license by zone/via bidding.
• Local colleges not allowing freshmen to have cars on campus
• Establish level of noise ordinance
Some of the ideas sounded a little slaphappy. "Why don't we bring back Prohibition?" one elderly gentleman suggested, possibly joking. Others were certainly novel.
Steve Palmer, managing partner of the Indigo Road restaurant group and co-chairman of the Late-Night Activity Review Committee, had one solution for the perceived overcrowding of late-night bars. Drawing inspiration from New York City's taxi medallion program, he suggested Charleston could limit the number of alcohol licenses in the city and allow license-holders to resell their licenses if they close for business.
One man at the meeting suggested a simple change of tone in the discussions between downtown residents and late-night business owners. "I think we got into 'we vs. they' last year, and there wasn't very much collaboration," he said. "We need to see more collaboration, and it's not 'we vs. they.'"