Editorial – Downtown nightlife should evolve slowly

Published 11:43 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2022

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With more revitalization coming to its western side, downtown Suffolk is brimming with potential. The new Festival Park at Washington and Saratoga streets could be transformative as an outdoor event space that brings foot traffic to support neighboring businesses.

Amid a wave of violent crime in the downtown area, such potential is fragile, however, and decisions by city leaders are fraught with the risk of ruining a good thing before it ever gets started.

That’s why we appreciate Suffolk City Council’s go-slow approach as downtown establishments clamor to extend live entertainment hours until 2 a.m.  

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As Mayor Mike Duman noted: “The worst we can do is be premature in extending these hours and then there turns out to be a couple of unfortunate incidents. And then what’ll happen is there will be a perception that it’s not safe to go to downtown Suffolk, and that is the last thing that we want. So I think we’re all working toward a common goal.”

There’s an old saying that not much good happens after midnight, but lots of bad can happen. Thus the need to proceed cautiously in creating the vibrant nightlife that most agree is needed downtown.

The controversy over live entertainment came to a head when the owners of two restaurants, Renneé’s Restaurant and Lounge at 156 W. Washington St. and High Tide Restaurant & Raw Bar at 130 N. Commerce St., received notices of violation for allowing live entertainment without a conditional use permit. Both would like to see downtown live entertainment hours extended until at least 2 a.m. 

The owners of High Tide — open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily — had requested a conditional use permit to allow for live entertainment indoors from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday. It had also requested outdoor entertainment hours from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. to allow for acoustic music on its patio. The Planning Commission modified High Tide’s hours of outside entertainment to Fridays through Sundays only from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., and it will allow live entertainment to begin at 9 a.m. 

In a 7-1 vote, with Donald Goldberg voting no, City Council approved High Tide’s permit request, but modified the outdoor entertainment hours to go between noon and 6 p.m. The vote for Renneé’s permit request, which had the same recommended hours from the city’s planning department, was also 7-1, with Goldberg in opposition.

The city’s unified development ordinance requires businesses to obtain a conditional use permit to establish a bar and nightclub within the central business district. As defined by the city, a bar and nightclub is a restaurant or similar establishment in which there is a dance floor or live entertainment. 

Restaurants and bars can stay open until midnight Sundays through Thursdays and until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, by right, but if they offer live entertainment, it has to end at 11 on weeknights and midnight on weekends, with noise being the primary factor in that, according to Planning and Community Development Director Kevin Wyne. 

Councilman Tim Johnson, who agreed with Duman that weekend entertainment hours will eventually be extended to 2 a.m., called the council’s action “the right decision for right now for our growing city.”

We agree.