When news of the proposed 12 a.m. bar ordinance began making the rounds, I, like many of you, begin to wonder exactly who was behind it.
Obviously, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley was one of the principle players. Joe’s been on a strangely despotic bent as of late as he’s engaged in one tyrannical temper tantrum after another, from claiming that a failure to extend I-526 will lead to dead bodies in the flooded, post-huricane streets of Charleston to apologizing for an act of racism by the staff of a local hotel that never occurred to stubbornly defending the cruise industry despite the opposition of the majority of downtown residents.
It was also clear that Police Chief Greg Mullen was behind the midnight closing time. Mullen, a long-standing member of the zero-fun squad, has been seemingly hell-bent on making sure that no one ever imbibes an adult beverage ever again. He banned tailgating brews before Citadel football games and went as far as to ban tailgating itself before the 2008 Dave Matthews show at The Joe. And then there was his teetotaling late-night ordinance last year, the one that required bars and restaurants to police the sidewalks and parking lots. It’s amazing that we haven’t had an embarrassing incident yet.
And then there was Charleston City Planner Tim Keane. Like Mullen and Riley, his name was attached to the ordinance, and while he’s certainly the least important VIP here, his name has the curious affect of transforming the midnight mandate into something that isn’t the product of an increasingly erratic mayor and a temperance-minded police chief. Keane gives this whole thing a much-need boost of practical problem-solving amid all the knee-jerkery.
But even though we knew those three players were involved, someone else had to be behind the push to kill night life on Upper King. Since we don’t have a strong contingency of far-right fundies in the Holy City, the mystery has been difficult to solve. Who’s to blame? The developers behind the explosion of hotels on Upper King and Meeting streets? The neighborhood associations near the so-called Entertainment Overlay District? Edna and Earl Fannypack from Findlay, Ohio, who are troubled by the riff-raff smoking cigarettes outside A.C.’s? For a time, it appeared to be a case that not even an army of Cumberbitches could crack.
Enter Mike Seekings.
Thanks to Charleston City Councilman Seekings, F&B conspiracy theorists were given a new 12 a.m. bogeyman: PeopleMatter and its CEO, president, and founder Nate DaPore. In a report from the Charleston Regional Business Journal, Seekings pointed the finger at PeopleMatter, while in a Local America article he singled out three unnamed high-tech firms. The trio had even given the city an ultimatum: clean up Upper King or they won’t be moving to town.
Oddly enough, it all made sense. Apparently, the City of Charleston had bought into its own Silicon Harbor hype. They’d sold themselves on a marching band of 76 trombones, a Springfield monorail, a Royal Gigabyte Nonesuch. And PeopleMatter was right there in the middle of it.
However, Nate DaPore says that there’s no reason to point the finger at him. In fact, DaPore, who I spoke to on Friday, says that he’s surprised that the City of Charleston has taken the first steps toward an industry-destroying ordinance. “We are just at a loss as everyone else,” the PeopleMatter CEO says. And while he admits that he spoke with the Ccty following the tragic death of Clint Seymour, he says that he never asked for the new ordinance and at no time did city officials address the possibility of closing bars at midnight. “We didn’t drive this ordinance. This is not a PeopleMatter thing.”
DaPore notes that the new ordinance doesn’t even impact most PeopleMatter employees, the majority of whom leave their Upper King offices by 7 o’clock at night. Admittedly, some employees of the PeopleMatter call center work until 11:30 p.m. None of those employees, DaPore says, has ever been threatened as they head home at night.
More importantly, DaPore simply doesn’t understand the need for a 12 a.m. bar closing. “I don’t think that moving the bar closing from two to 12 is going to accomplish much,” DaPore says, noting that what we have here is not a late-night bar problem but, like I argued in last week’s cover story, a city planning problem. In fact, the CEO says that he has urged the city to draft a master plan for the area. “I don’t understand how the 12-to-two is wrapped up in this.”
All in all, DaPore says that it’s simply not good business for his firm to anger the F&B industry. After all, PeopleMatter sells human resource software specifically geared toward the service industry; “They’re our customers. We’re supporters,” he says.
And so the mystery continues. Either that or it’s been staring us in the face all along.