TRAVERSE CITY -- A local businessman and others are thirsty for more liquor licenses downtown, but not everyone is raising their glasses to additional alcohol-serving establishments.
City commissioners today will consider creating a special redevelopment project area to allow more liquor licenses in the Downtown Development Authority district. More than 20 businesses in the district hold liquor licenses.
The state controls the amount of liquor licenses based on population, and the city is at its limit for Class C licenses.
Paul Danielson, owner of Trattoria Stella at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, wants a liquor license so he can open a restaurant on the ground floor of the Whiting Hotel on Front Street.
He wouldn't comment on his plans, but said it's a "little different" than what's downtown now, and he hopes it will generate more evening traffic.
"If you're trying to build an area with high-density city areas or high-density towns with rural around them, as opposed to sprawl, you're going to have to do things to keep people downtown," Danielson said.
But not all city bar owners are keen on the idea.
"There are just so many restaurants and so many bars right now that are downtown that it's starting to cut the pie so thin, and makes it hard for existing businesses," said David VanOcker, owner of Union Street Station.
City Commissioner Ralph Soffredine also is cool to the idea.
"I think we have to discuss it as a commission because at one time in our downtown area, it was bar, after bar, after bar," Soffredine said, describing Traverse City in the 1950s and '60s. "I'm concerned about it and I don't want to see us have to revert back to that."
State law allows cities to create redevelopment project areas where additional liquor licenses can be issued if certain criteria are met.
At least $75,000 must be spent for rehabilitation and restoration of the applicant's building, including the preceding five years, before a license can be issued.
There also must be no less than $200,000 of private and public investment in real and private property in the preceding five years. One license can be issued for every $200,000.
There's been more than $20 million in private investment to the downtown in the last three years, said Rob Bacigalupi, DDA deputy director.
The state approves licenses, but businesses first need city concurrence.
Bacigalupi sees the program as an economic development tool.
"Downtown is a fun place to go, and having good restaurants is part of having a good entertainment mix," he said. "Until this opportunity came along, this law, we were very limited as to allowing more restaurants and bars downtown because there just weren't many licenses available."