More than 30 people, including local business owners, city administrators and members of city council's planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee, met at Lookout Park Tuesday to continue a discussion on the establishment of a proposed 100-acre revitalization district in the downtown Marietta area.
Ohio Revised Code provides for development of the 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.
But the law also makes additional liquor licenses available to restaurants located within a city's established revitalization district.
The size of the proposed revitalization district in Marietta would qualify for an extra 15 new liquor licenses for an annual fee of $2,344 each from interested eateries located within the district.
"Ohio law allows establishment of revitalization districts, and a local merchant has come forward with an application for us to create a district, so city council is holding public hearings on the matter," Walt Brothers, city council president, said Tuesday.
He said the state-developed application process gives the city an Oct. 17 deadline to approve or deny the revitalization district application that was filed by local businessman and property owner Dr. Roger Anderson.
If you go
- Marietta City Council's streets and transportation committee is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. today in the second floor conference room at 304 Putnam St. All council and committee meetings, except executive sessions, are open to the public.
- For more city information, go to http://www.mariettaoh.net/
"Our interest is for improvement of this town. We love the town and the local restaurants-this is no criticism of them," Anderson said during Tuesday's meeting.
He added that it would be a disappointment to see "nuisance bars" crop up in the downtown area, a concern voiced by some who oppose the revitalization district, although the current law states that 75 percent of a license-holder's business must be from food sales.
"There is space for restaurants downtown, and it would take at least $100,000 to open a restaurant in town, so I don't think there will be 15 people interested in obtaining these liquor licenses," Anderson said. "But I think all property owners in Marietta would agree they would like to see empty spaces filled and a downtown area that's at least 10 percent better."
He noted that he already holds a liquor license that was obtained for around $40,000 before the new revitalization district legislation was enacted in 2008, but he would also be interested in one of the new licenses if his application for establishment of a district is approved.
But John Lehman, another local businessman and downtown property owner who holds more than one liquor license, expressed concern that allowing liquor licenses to be obtained at a cheaper price would devalue the current liquor licenses and open the door for a host of low-class bars in the downtown area.
"I moved here in 1983, and downtown was a much seedier area, not like it is today," he said. "It was not a clean or safe town. Now our downtown looks great, and we have a good thing going, but if this passes we're going the wrong way."
Lehman said someone who invests $100,000 to start a restaurant business in town and purchases a liquor license for $50,000 to $75,000 would be more committed to making the business work.
Marietta resident Judy Phillips said she and her sister moved here from the Cleveland area more than a year ago.
"We selected Marietta intentionally because it met all of our standards," she said. "Recently we returned to Cleveland Heights where they have a restaurant row with indoor and outdoor dining. We would like to see more of that in Marietta. We could use more eateries here."
Kim Hearing, co-owner with husband, Dave, of the Levee House restaurant on Ohio Street, said they're not against more restaurants in town and are not afraid of competition.
"But my concern is for our three children, ages 12, 10 and 7," she said. "I'm concerned about the potential for more underage drinking (with more liquor licenses), and the safety of my children."
Hearing said if 15 more liquor licenses were added in the city she would not feel comfortable allowing her children to play or ride bicycles on the River Trail.
"Our population is not going to double by allowing these licenses," she said. "We'll have to spread the customers around with 30 other restaurants. I'm against this revitalization district."
City development director Andy Coleman pointed out that 15 is the maximum allowable liquor licenses, based on the proposed 100-acre revitalization district. He added that the city council can limit the number of licenses.
Local contractor Dan Harrison, a member of the Marietta Chamber of Commerce, said his first apartment was above a bar in the downtown area in 1981.
"I wouldn't have been in favor of this district in 1981, but this is today, and I know what we all have worked for and want for this city," he said. "I'm on the chamber's business advocacy board and voted to support revitalization because I thought it would be good for everyone, not just for individual businesses."
Harrison said he had heard a lot of fear for the demise of the downtown area during Tuesday's meeting.
"But I'm also hearing an acceptance of stagnation," he said. "We could stay stagnant, but we need to grow. We're shrinking, not growing. And we know better than anyone that nothing we've done that's been successful had anything to do with fear."
Planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee chairman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, said he would like to schedule another meeting, tentatively on Sept. 4, for council members to discuss the revitalization district proposal. He said the public would also be welcome to attend.
Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, suggested having someone from the state liquor control board at that meeting to help answer any questions about the revitalization district legislation.