Revitalization district discussed

The latest application to establish a community revitalization district with the potential of adding up to 15 new liquor licenses in downtown Marietta was discussed during a special meeting of city council’s planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee Wednesday.

Charles Sommer, owner of the property currently occupied by The Original Pizza Place on Second Street, filed the application with the mayor’s office Sept. 9, after a similar application by the pizza parlor’s owner, Michael Ruscitto, was turned down last month.

City law director Paul Bertram III explained that the Ohio state code allowing for a revitalization district specifies that an applicant has to be the owner of a property located within the proposed district, but Ruscitto was only leasing the property from Sommer.

“Mr. Sommer has now applied for the district and the mayor has recommended his application to city council, and council has 75 days from Sept. 9 to address the issue,” said Councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, who chairs the planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee.

State code provides for development of revitalization districts in specifically-designated areas of a city that include, or will include, a combination of entertainment, retail, educational, sporting, social, cultural or arts establishments.

The law makes additional liquor licenses available to restaurants located within a city’s established revitalization district.

The size of the proposed district would be approximately 120 acres encompassing approximately 10 blocks in the downtown and Harmar areas, which would qualify for an extra 15 new “D-5L” liquor licenses at an annual fee of $2,344 each from any interested eateries located within the district.

Restaurants applying for those licenses would have to be established businesses that receive at least 75 percent of their gross income from the sale of food, according to the revitalization district regulations.

Marietta development director Andy Coleman said establishing the district would open opportunities for development of a downtown theater and entertainment district with new restaurants and other businesses.

“This is not just about the liquor licenses,” he said. “It could also open grant opportunities for our downtown areas.”

Local businessman Dave Haney opposed the revitalization district.

“If you open up to 15 more restaurants serving liquor and food, you’ll oversaturate this area with those businesses,” he said. “I don’t want to see that happen. This will only bring minimum wage jobs, and we don’t need that. We need more tenants in our buildings. I think it’s a bad idea for our marketplace.”

Harmar Tavern and Spagna’s Restaurant owner Kevin Whitby agreed.

“I don’t think this town can support 15 more restaurants with liquor licenses,” he said. “There aren’t that many people here to eat at those establishments. This would dilute our current liquor licenses and dilute business.”

Whitby said he wouldn’t care if The Original Pizza Place obtains a liquor license.

“But if this is approved, five more licenses would be plenty,” he said. “Maybe the council needs to look at how large that map of the proposed district is. How much of those 120 acres would just be wasted?”

Ryan Smith, vice president of the Marietta Main Street board, formerly ReStore Marietta, said members of that organization supported a community revitalization district.

And Charlotte Keim, executive director of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, distributed a list of reasons why the chamber members also support the district.

“We’ve been working on this since 2011,” she said. “And we believe it would grow our downtown area as a dining destination. The chamber has done a lot of research into this and believe it would help keep our downtown vibrant and alive.”

Keim noted the first revitalization district was established in Wooster, and earlier this year the city of Cambridge followed suit.

“There have been no problems reported from these and other communities that have enacted revitalization districts,” she said.

Dan Harrison, owner of Harrison Construction, said he was speaking as a private citizen during Wednesday’s meeting.

“I believe in competition and free enterprise,” he said. “I welcome other remodelers to this area because I want to see people become successful. Monopolization of business results in stagnation. And do we really have the right to stand in the way of free enterprise? I really support this revitalization district.”

But Tina Thomas of Third Street, who already owns a local liquor license and was the owner of the building that housed The Four Seasons and other local properties, said she is against the district.

“Why can’t these people apply for a liquor license from those that are available in other areas of the state?” she asked. “I pay more than $2,300 a year for my liquor license. Do these people have to pay an annual fee?”

Bertram said any establishment that would receive one of the new liquor licenses would be required to pay a $100 application fee and $2,344 a year to maintain the permits.

He added that the D-5L permits could not be transferred to businesses outside of the established revitalization district.

Kalter noted that Bertram is consulting with the Ohio Ethics Commission to determine whether Councilmen Harley Noland, D-at large, and Michael Mullen, I-at large, would be able to vote on the revitalization district measure as both currently hold liquor licenses.

He said the commission is expected to provide an answer in about 30 days, and until the law director receives a response Bertram has advised Noland and Mullen not to participate in discussions pertaining to the revitalization district.

Bertram plans to introduce the ordinance for potential approval of the application during tonight’s city council meeting at 7:30 p.m. in the community building at Lookout Park. But he said the measure would go through three readings before a final vote is taken, giving the public at least three council sessions in which to submit comments on the revitalization district.

A final decision would be due prior to Nov. 25.