Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 1, 2014

First step taken toward floating restaurant

Efforts to attract a floating restaurant to Ashland’s riverfront have quickly moved past the talking stage with commissioners voting to seek proposals for such an establishment. Whether that action results in a floating restaurant in Ashland by the end of summer likely is a longshot, but nevertheless Chris Pullem, Ashland’s economic development director, says that remains the city’s goal.

What the city commission will do is establish just how much interest, if any, there is in establishing a restaurant and other businesses on the riverfront. If a number of potential developers respond to the city’s request for proposals, it will show there is a real possibility for the type of development that will link the riverfront to downtown Ashland to the benefit of both.

As it now stands, the riverfront essentially is only used for the three nights of Summer Motion concerts each July. With few exceptions, the riverfront park is unused for most of the remainder of the year. That needs to change if the tremendous potential the beautiful river park has for attracting people to Ashland — people who will dine in our restaurants, sleep in our hotels and motels, and shop in our businesses — is to be realized.

As we have stated on a number of different occasions in this space, we think the millions of dollars the federal government and Ashland spent on the riverfront has been largely wasted because the riverfront is so rarely used. While the city’s request for proposals for the riverfront may not directly result in a floating restaurant on the river, we commend city commissioners for at least taking proactive steps to encourage development.

Implied in the commissioner’s request is a willingness of commissioners to soften their opposition to beer and alcohol sales on the riverfront. Without the ability to secure a liquor-by-the-drink license, the chances of luring a floating restaurant to the riverfront are just about zero. And if commissioners are will to allow a floating restaurant to sell liquor on the city-owned land, then surely it will allow special event beer and alcohol licenses for concerts and other attractions on the riverfront. Without the ability to sell alcohol at special events, the tremendous potential the river front has for attracting people to downtown Ashland will never be fully realized.

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