Kent's regulations for allowing the transfer of liquor licenses via Ohio's "Trex" liquor license transfer process may be adjusted to allow some flexibility for approving proposed new bars and restaurants.
Kent City Council voted Wednesday to have city administrators take a second look at local guidelines set last fall establishing requirements for business owners looking to open a new bar in the city by transferring in an existing liquor license from another Ohio community via the trex transfer.
The existing guidelines set by council spell out requirements that must be met before council would sign off on a trex request. The existing guidelines are:
- The entity wanting to bring the trex license transfer into the city must invest a minimum $750,000 in the physical structure (or) building that will hold the license
- The building (or) structure that will hold the license must have a minimum of 4,000 square feet of dining space
- Alcohol sales cannot account for more than 25 percent of total retail sales at the establishment
- Council must review and approve or disapprove all trex transfers
"Are those too high?" Kent Economic Development Director Dan Smith said. "What if there’s a quality, small entity that wants to come into downtown? Should they be excluded?"
Two new bars and one restaurant that wants to serve alcohol all are trying to relocate or open anew in downtown Kent, and none of them meet all three of the primary local requirements for a trex transfer.
Developer Ron Burbick, who created Kent's Acorn Alley projects and is renovating Acorn Corner, said two of those businesses are moving into his developments.
The first is Belleria Pizza and Italian Restaurant, which is planning a move in three weeks to Acorn Alley. And the second is the Secret Cellar, a new wine and jazz bar looking to open in the basement of Acorn Corner in the next three months — provided the necessary permit and licensing approvals are obtained.
Burbick said both will fall short of the 4,000 square feet requirement, and the proposed wine bar may not meet the 75-25 percent requirement of food to alcohol sales whereas Belleria will meet the food-to-alcohol sales percentage requirement.
"My total investment in my development downtown is $22.5 million, so I think I might meet the criteria," he said. "Quite honestly for a jazz club and for an Italian restaurant like that … we didn’t want a big place."
The third is Twisted Root Cellars, a wine and craft beer bar Gary Gardner told council he is looking to open up in the former trophy shop in the Kent Stage building.
"We’ve been looking at this space now for six, seven months," Gardner said.
He said even if his business got city council's approval for the trex transfer there is still a host of requirements the business has to meet at the state level before state officials sign off on the transfer.
After more than an hour of talks most of council agreed the requirements may need tweaked, but they also greed the city needs baseline regulations for proposals.
"You cannot remove all subjectivity from the decision," Councilman Garret Ferrara said. "I think at some point in time we’re going to be stuck with a case to say, ‘Do we like this proposal or not?'"
Council voted unanimously to have city administrators review the issue and come back to council with recommendations for altering the existing trex guidelines.
Council also voted to suggest those recommendations include presentation of a business plan and lowering the investment amount to $250,000.
Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said in crafting and reviewing the new recommendations city leaders will need to be careful not to lower the bar too much.
"We don’t want to go so low that we’re risking or jeopardizing the quality of things that we are seeing in our downtown right now," Ruller said.