Greg Hatem helped rebuild downtown Raleigh. His flagship restaurant, the Raleigh Times Bar, spreads across half a block of Hargett Street. His company owns 40 buildings and employs some 500 people.
Now he’s raising an alarm about what he says is a threat to the city’s center. Earlier this week, Hatem spoke from the lectern of the Raleigh City Council’s chambers, taking public tensions in a growing business community and residential district.
“There’s a huge amount of conflict now in the Fayetteville Street district, between the bar owners and the residents and other businesses,” Hatem told the council.
He believes downtown is now “unlivable,” so he’s preparing to move his family from an apartment over Fayetteville Street to the Oakwood neighborhood.
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“To wake up in the morning to the aftermath – it’s not pretty,” Hatem said, referring to various bodily fluids and trash he has seen on city streets.
The impetus for Hatem’s speech, in part, is the possibility of a noisier Fayetteville Street. Eight eateries along the central strip have recently applied for “amplified outdoor entertainment” permits, which would allow them to play music from exterior speakers or open their doors while music is playing. No such permits are now active in the area, although Hatem made use of a permit once at the Raleigh Times Bar.
“How much worse is it going to be when they’re partying in the streets?” Hatem asked in an interview. He asked the council for a one-year moratorium, and council members obliged by delaying consideration of the permits until March, at the earliest.
That move could chafe Hatem’s downtown competition. The applicants for the outdoor permits are Coglin’s Raleigh, Common 414, Paddy O’Beers, Capital City Tavern, Southern Hospitality, the Oxford Pub, Zinda and Jimmy V’s. All are spread from the 100 block to the 400 block of Fayetteville.
G Patel, owner of Zinda and The Oxford, said he wanted the permits simply so he could open his doors while music played inside.
“I’m not looking to blast music outside,” he said. Patel said he wants to open up the restaurants’ doors, making it easier to service the patio dining area. Because the restaurants play music inside, he needs a permit to do that.
And he does not believe that the nightlife scene is spiraling out of control.
“Is downtown growing? Is Raleigh growing? Do we want to stop the population growth?” he asked.
But he, too, acknowledges that growth has come with some pain. City records offer a glimpse of the change: From 2012 to 2014, police received an average of 65 disturbance calls per year on four blocks of Fayetteville Street. That’s more than double the 31 disturbance calls logged in 2008.
“It’s unlivable,” said Hatem, who also owns the eateries Sitti, Gravy, The Pit and Morning Times, along with the buildings that house a new stretch of retail along Hargett and Salisbury streets.
“It started in Glenwood South, and it’s moving to Fayetteville.”
Asked whether he didn’t bear some responsibility for Raleigh’s nightlife, Hatem said that he has tried to check alcohol problems at his properties. His servers get license-checking machines and training about how to serve alcohol safely. The Raleigh Times employs an off-duty police officer on weekend nights and closes around 1:30 a.m., he said.
Patel said he also closes his patios early and hires off-duty officers to keep the peace.
“Let’s come up with solutions that are feasible for the residents,” he said.
Glenwood South noise
The issue is not new to the council. Late last year, officials tried to broker a peace between residents and bars on Glenwood South, perhaps the loudest and latest-partying strip in the city. Officials have been monitoring the late-night Glenwood South crowds to determine the scope of the problem.
Now, with Hatem’s weight behind it, the heart of downtown is coming to the forefront. Beyond quiet streets, he wants the city to boost a daytime downtown, with more emphasis on retail. The city’s elected leaders are on board, at least, to talk.
“We would benefit greatly, ... particularly right now, from hearing from members of our business community, residents,” said Councilman Wayne Maiorano. “How do we take this on, so we don’t slow (downtown) down?”