DDA Has Liquor On Its Breadth

August 2, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — When the Downtown Development Authority holds its next public hearing on a request for a Class C liquor license available only to downtown businesses, it will be the board’s first in more than three years.

The last was held May 12, 1999, when the DDA ruled that the Janicky Corp. met its criteria for a state license for the Sundance Grill in the Trust Building at 40 Pearl St. NW.

City commissioners added their blessing five months later, and the Janicky application was sent to, and then approved by, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

Janicky has since transferred the license to Food Service Partners Inc.

An MCCL spokeswoman told the Business Journal that four of these licenses have been granted to businesses in Kent County, with the one awarded to Janicky the only one that has been given to a downtown Grand Rapids restaurant. She also said that 43 of the 50 licenses the Legislature allocated for the state had been awarded as of last month.

Former Sierra Room and Club 1894 co-owner Kristi Jackson wants a license for a new restaurant, the Lewis-Benton Steakhouse, that she plans to open at Ionia Avenue and Monroe Center this year. Her hearing with the DDA is set for Aug. 14.

Although no one opposed the Janicky request, the licenses created quite a stir here when these were first offered in 1997 — just months after state lawmakers authorized the statewide permits for downtown districts in late 1996. The issue then was the inexpensive cost of the licenses, about $1,100, at a time when the price of a comparable license on the open market ran from $30,000 to $60,000.

In fact, Jackson spoke against the first five requests for the licenses at the public hearings held by the DDA and city five years ago. Back then she and her Sierra Room partners had just paid the going rate for a license and they felt that the new downtown licenses gave the applicants an unfair advantage in the marketplace.

Just the same, the DDA and city recommended that all five be forwarded to Lansing for approval. But the MCCL didn’t award any of the five the special license. In a few of those requests, the state denied the application because escrowed licenses were available here.

State law, however, doesn’t require the DDA and the city to consider if liquor licenses are available in the market when they recommend a business for the special license. Both bodies only have to consider two elements to arrive at a decision.

One is, will the license help prevent further economic deterioration within the district? And the other is, will the license help promote economic growth within the district? If the panels feel that the applicant answers “yes” to both, then the application gets sent to Lansing for the MCCL to review and either approve or deny.

The MCCL, however, does require an applicant to show that an escrowed license is not readily available in the district and to prove that it doesn’t have the money to buy one, if one is available. If those requirements aren’t met, the application will likely be denied.

The MCCL also requires an applicant to meet certain operational standards, such as being open for at least 10 hours a day for five days a week, in order to be approved for a license.

Jackson and her new partners, Brad Ethridge and Michael Eggelston, plan to lease 13,000 square feet in the Michigan National Bank Building at 77 Monroe Center. The restaurant plans to be open Monday through Saturday, seat about 250, and offer banquet facilities.

Jackson said that she hopes to open the Lewis-Benton Steakhouse in the fall.

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