Myrtle Beach zoning plan to address neighborhood nightclubs

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) Two Myrtle Beach nightclubs that neighbors have described as "crime magnets," are now closed, but people who live and work nearby are worried it won't last.

Neighbors in the Booker T. Washington community and the Broadway Street section of downtown Myrtle Beach blame the clubs for the shootings, loud music and drug deals they say have been going on for years.

Nightclubs in Neighborhoods

The Myrtle Beach Police Department says nearly 600 incidents were reported at Club Congo in the last six years.

4 shootings

15 assaults

15 drug / alcohol crimes

7 weapons crimes

"There's loud music, running, gunfire, fights and you're peeping out the door to wonder, hoping no one was killed," said long-time Booker T. Washington resident Magaline Grant.

Grant was born and raised in the neighborhood. Just across the street from her house, and next to a daycare, is a nightclub. It's most recently been called Club Congo, but neighbors call it a danger zone.

In downtown Myrtle Beach another club, Groove Ultra Lounge, has neighbors and nearby businesses fearing for their safety.

According to statistics from the Myrtle Beach Police Department, nearly 600 incidents were reported at Club Congo in the last six years. Those incidents include four shootings, 15 assaults, 15 drug and alcohol-related crimes and seven weapons crimes.

During the same time period police reported more than 200 incidents at Groove Ultra Lounge. Reports account for two shootings, three assaults, six crimes related to drugs or alcohol and four weapons-related crimes.

Other crimes included loitering, suspicious activity and officer-initiated checks.

"It's just been really scary down through the years, and I know this because I'm born and raised here, and I know exactly when it started and I'm glad it's over," said Grant.

City officials say Club Congo closed after its business license expired in May. Groove Ultra Lounge is vacant too, but nearby businesses are already hearing about another late-night club taking over. They're worried the violence will come with it.

City Manager Tom Leath says there is an ordinance pending in city council that would rezone Booker T. Washington, making it illegal for nightclubs to operate there.

That wouldn't cover areas that are less residential like Broadway Street, but Leath says even there, a nuisance ordinance provides a way to fight back.

"What the police have done here is keep a record of what's going on. The number of calls, the types of calls and at some point the city attorney's office takes it and triggers a nuisance action," said Leath.

That's when officials ask a court to close down a club based on those records and Leath says it's been done before in the city. What makes things more complicated is when clubs keep switching owners.

"If the owners keep changing and you still have the same kind of problems then ultimately you go after the landlord," Leath said.

Trevor Venters is the property manager who holds the lease to 637 Broadway Street, the former Groove Ultra Lounge. He also owns Pizza Shak in Myrtle Beach.

WMBF News reached out to Venters to speak to us on camera, but he declined an interview. He tells WMBF News he does check up on the people he leases to by running background checks and checking references.

When asked why he continues to lease to nightclubs that neighbors say cause trouble, he responded, "It's not a nice neighborhood to begin with."

Leath says neighbors can help the city get rid of nuisance nightclubs by being willing to testify about how what goes on at the establishments impacts their lives.

The ordinance that would rezone the Booker T. Washington community will go before the city's planning commission on November 15. Then it'll head to council for final approval.

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