SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Suffolk bar and restaurant owners say if downtown is going to be a success, they need to be able to have live entertainment until 2 a.m.
Currently, those authorized to host live entertainment with a conditional use permit (CUP) in downtown must cease performance at 11 p.m. Sunday – Thursday and midnight Friday – Saturday, according to Kevin Wyne, the interim director of Planning and Community Development.
Rennee Townsand, who along with her husband owns Rennee’s Restaurant and Lounge along W. Washington Street, said that currently put her at a disadvantage when compared to the rest of Hampton Roads.
Mayor Mike Duman said he understands that, but following recent late-night incidents around the region, he doesn’t think the city is ready to make the change.
Townsand opened her restaurant in February 2022. She is allowed to serve food and alcohol until 2 a.m. per her Alcoholic Beverage Control license. However, she said her customers aren’t very interested after the DJ packs up.
“If the DJ leaves at 12 midnight. The crowd leaves at 12 midnight,” Townsend said. “We are in competition with Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach. People do not mind driving to other cities. They stay open to 2, their money is going over there til 2.”
She is not alone in her thinking. The owners of High Tide on Commerce St., recently stood in front of Suffolk City Council with a similar request.
“We would really like to be able to play music until our ABC license allows us to sell alcohol,” Katy Tew, one of the co-owners of High Tide, said.
Both restaurants applied for CUPs after the city found them hosting live entertainment past midnight without a permit.
Townsand believes the restrictions will ultimately hold back any vibrance downtown hopes to achieve.
Revitalizing downtown Suffolk has been a priority for City Council.
While many of the century-old buildings currently sit vacant, the recently approved Capital Improvement Plan for the city invests millions of dollars downtown in the form of a new festival park, library and demolition of decaying structures.
“We want to become … a destination,” Duman said. “And to do that, we will need to have that aspect of nightlife in our city just as a lot of other cities do. But we need to be diligent about what we are doing we need to make sure we don’t do it prematurely.”
Duman said the March 2022 quintuple shooting in the heart of Norfolk’s downtown entertainment district has him hesitation to rush into anything.
“It’s absolutely given me pause,” Duman said.
Some downtown Norfolk residents, as well as Councilwoman Courtney Doyle, are currently pushing for the city to amend all downtown CUP’s, so that closing time is midnight.
“I continue to advocate for this,” Doyle said on Thursday. She had previously said she believes the saying “nothing good happens after midnight.”
Doyle continues to walk downtown on weekend nights to see how recent enhancements made by the city have affected the environment.
Duman said he is watching Norfolk closely as he feels it can serve as a model for Suffolk.
“We need to ensure that we have proper code enforcement, we need to have lights, we need to have cameras, we need to have a police presence,” Duman said. “I’ve already spoken to the City Manager about obtaining some cameras exactly like Norfolk has that we can place in strategic locations along Washington Street.”
Duman doesn’t have a timeline for allowing for 2 a.m. entertainment, but assured Townsand and Tew it won’t happen if the rules currently in place aren’t followed.
“I want everyone to succeed,” Duman said. “These CUPs are going to be under a microscope.”