Festivals help create a sense of community. They also offer entertainment for residents and visitors alike. And just as importantly, they provide a boost for the local economy from festival-goers buying food, drinks and other offerings from local businesses.
But downtown bars and restaurants in Beaufort will miss out on some of that economic activity July 18-27 during this year's Water Festival. Beaufort City Council recently denied a request by Paul Thompson of Panini's on the Waterfront to waive the city's noise ordinance every day during the festival except for Sunday and allow live music until 2 a.m. Thompson, other business owners and Blakely Williams, president and CEO of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, had hoped that after festival activities ended at 11 p.m., attendees would flock to the downtown bars and restaurants for live music, food and drink.
A waiver was needed because the noise ordinance restricts loud music or noise between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. seven days a week, and between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday.
City Council unanimously voted to deny the waiver because, according to Deputy Police Chief Dale McDorman, the police department is already stretched by festival activities.
That's unfortunate as it now forces local businesses to compete directly with festival activities for customers. It's a missed opportunity for business owners who should be able to rely on City Council for help, not hindrances, in attracting customers.
And we're not convinced that allowing a few more hours of live music after the festival is over would have unduly strained police resources.
We certainly would have agreed with council denying the waiver had it been requested for a time period beyond the festival. The city has been struggling to have both a lively downtown scene and the peace and quiet that residents want. More work is needed to find that balance.
But allowing a waiver for a nine-day period during a popular festival when residents are anticipating a higher level of noise is a reasonable request. Beaufort leaders should have worked to find a compromise with downtown businesses. That would have shown a commitment to the city's hospitality industry, a major driver of its economy.
Now, Thompson estimates his business and others could each lose five-figure amounts because of council's decision.
Let's hope City Council will be willing to do the hard work and find a compromise next year instead of taking the easy -- and quiet -- way out.