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City staff directed to investigate possible second entertainment district


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Greenville City Council directed staff this week to identify areas in city where a new entertainment district could operate after a councilwoman raised discrimination concerns.

Outgoing Councilwoman Kandie Smith requested the report because she wanted to explore options for locating new nightclubs.

Smith said she receives ongoing complaints that downtown clubs exclude certain groups of people from their establishments.

She said a one point that “... people are being turned away from the uptown area because of the color of their skin,” and also said that people with “my skin complexion” are not being allowed in private clubs.

Smith said she has been told the city cannot address the problem because the clubs are private businesses, so she believes the answer may be to create an area where businesses that make all people feel welcome can operate.

In early 2010, the City Council added a requirement that prevented new clubs from opening within 500 feet of an exciting club. The rule change was a result of a drive-by shooting that left two men dead in 2009. It was thought at the time the density of clubs in downtown Greenville were creating safety concerns.

The rule was further amended that year to add a 500-foot spacing requirement between clubs, residential uses and residential zoning districts.

Smith originally proposed reducing the 500-foot buffer to 300 feet, saying it would give potential club owners more options for opening a business.

Councilman Rick Smiley said there is value in discussing whether spacing in the entertainment district should be reduced, but spacing should remain at 500 feet outside that area.

Several other council members questioned the change’s effect on residential neighborhoods.

Mayor P.J. Connelly said Smith’s suggestion had merit and should be explored. However, he reminded council that the 500-foot spacing requirement between clubs, residential uses and zoning districts were added because of problems residents in Colonial Heights, a neighborhood off East 10th Street, had with a nearby club.

Councilman Will Litchfield said that while any study should include the entire city, he was wary about changes that could negatively affect homeowners or neighborhoods.

The council reviewed a map illustrating areas that planning staff identified as possible sites where clubs could be located outside the entertainment district because they were 500 feet from residential area.

The sites included large swaths of property where South Memorial Drive and Southwest Greenville Boulevard intersect, including property surrounding Mall and Galleria drives, where Kohls, Academy Sports and Hobby Lobby are located; Southwest Greenville Boulevard near the Hilton Greenville and Walmart; and Dickinson Avenue Extension near South Memorial Drive, including a stretch of Dickson bordered by Skinner, Chestnut, Broad and West 14th streets.

There also was a stretch along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard north of the Tar River and ending at the intersection of MLK, U.S. 264 Bypass East and Old Pactolus Highway.

Smith said she gave the map to a potential club owner who researched the areas with city staff and said none of the locations were viable.

Councilman Brian Meyerhoeffer asked staff if a club could be opened or built in an area along Dickinson Avenue near Reade Circle. Staff noted Trollingwood Taproom and Brewery was in the area so the 500-foot rule would prevent it.

The question then became whether a club could be established on Dickinson between the 10th Street Connector Bridge and West 14th Street. There was confusion about whether single family homes were shown on the map.

Smith modified her motion several times to reflect issues raised by other council members.

She raised the issue because she is leaving the council effective Dec. 31. Smith was elected to the N.C. House of Representatives District 8 seat and will join the General Assembly in January.

“This has been on our agenda several times and I don’t believe in continuing to look at something without doing anything,” Smith said.

The final motion, which was unanimously approved, directed staff to investigate and provide a citywide report on potential locations and effects on establishing another entertainment district.

State Theatre

The developer renovating the historic White Theater, now called the State Theatre, expects its first show will be in mid-January, City Manager Ann Wall reported.

The building’s heating and air conditioning system is operational, tiling work in underway and the bathroom should be completed by the end of next week, she said during an update on the long anticipated music venue.

A representative of CommunitySmith, the Clayton-based developer that is renovating the building, said the building should have a temporary certificate of occupancy by the end of December, Wall said.

“We don’t have a specific date when it will be open?” Connelly asked.

The State Theatre website shows the electro-pop duo Cherub is scheduled to perform Jan. 11.

CommunitySmith purchased the building from the city in September 2016 and the contract said it would be converted to a live music and performance center by March 31. The 104-year-old building, located at 110 W. Fifth St., was not ready and when the contracted 120-day grace period expired this summer. Wall announced in early August that  the city was collecting a fine of $100 a day for failing to meet its deadline.

CommunitySmith has been billed $12,500 so far and nothing has been paid to date, city spokesman Brock Letchworth said. The company is being billed monthly and the money will go into the city’s general fund when collected.

Rape kit testing

Federal funding that allowed the Greenville Police Department to test backlogged rape evidence kits has so far netted six suspects, Chief Mark Holtzman said.

Holtzman said his department had a backlog of 318 untested rape kits.

“Just about every department in the country has a backlog,” he said.

Backlogs are generated because kits are not automatically tested, he said. Testing only occurs when a suspect has been identified or the potential suspect is someone the victim knows.

Kits also remain untested if a victim is unwilling to pursue a criminal charges.

The department received a $219,495 federal grant in early 2016 to begin testing kits.

Out of the 318 kits, 280 met requirements for testing under the grant rules, Holtzman said. Forty-nine were submitted to the state lab and 25 were sent to a private lab.

The six results that generated suspects are allowing officers to future investigate cases, Holtzman said.

He said that next month he will bring the council documents to contract with a new private lab, because the facility the department was working with no longer is accredited under the grant requirements.

The change should not affect the existing investigations, he said.