Despite opposition from four Warsaw City Councilmen Friday, the Board of Public Works and Safety approved an alley encroachment agreement between the city and Urban Retrend LLC.
Urban Retrend, owned by David Gustafson, operates Three Crowns Coffee and Oak & Alley at 114 S. Buffalo St. The encroachment agreement will allow Urban Retrend to use the alley between Gustafson’s building and city hall for outdoor dining.
Gustafson and City Planner Jeremy Skinner presented the proposal to the city council at its June 20 meeting. At the Aug. 1 city council meeting, several downtown business owners and councilmen expressed concerns about it. The Board of Works then tabled the agreement Aug. 5 for further discussion and thought.
At the board meeting Friday morning, Skinner said there have been no changes to the agreement since the Aug. 5 meeting.
Board of Works member and City Councilman Jeff Grose said, “I’m the same as what I was two weeks ago. I just appreciate the fact that the city is entertaining an idea like this.”
George Clemens, Board of Works member, said he couldn’t be for it if the alley was being vacated or if Gustafson was being given property. He said there are a lot of protections in the agreement for the city, and the city can end the agreement with a 30-day notice if it doesn’t work out.
Along with trusting the mayor’s judgment on the issue, Clemens said, “I also know the person doing this … and he’s a man of his word.” He said Gustafson runs both of his establishments “very nicely” with good clientele and the businesses are good assets to the city.
Clemens said the alley proposal was probably a good idea and worth giving a try.
Board member and Mayor Joe Thallemer asked Gustafson if he’d like to add anything more as he couldn’t make the last board meeting.
“I would say that it’s certainly a project that I’m looking at having mutual benefit for both of our businesses and the community at large and the city. So I have no problem making the concessions that we made to make an agreement on,” he said.
Gustafson said he has a vested interest in keeping it a classy environment and he has apartment tenants above the establishments.
Thallemer asked him to explain Oak & Alley’s proposed alcohol sales and family dining in the alley. “The specific rules on family dining are designed by the Alcohol Tobacco Commission as far as our alcohol license,” Gustafson said. The front end of the building is designated as family dining, and the back half is designated for 21 years old and older. The entire outside, as suggested by the ATC, would be designated as a family dining area.
“As far as outside, it definitely would be a dining experience welcoming families,” he said.
After reading through the highlights of the agreement, Thallemer then opened the meeting up to the public.
City Councilmen Cindy Dobbins, Mike Klondaris, Jerry Frush and Ron Shoemaker stated their concerns with allowing the alley proposal.
Dobbins said that while she was a champion for the downtown, she reiterated her concerns about the proposal, having expressed them before at the Aug. 5 meeting. “Number one is about being fair to all merchants. I’m just afraid of opening a can of worms. We can’t close every alley in town and we don’t have a formal plan for which alleys could be closed,” she said. She then said there’s some basic issues and needs downtown that need addressing before the city starts incorporating new elements.
Dobbins said the planters are a safety concern, trees are large and obscuring businesses and signage, sidewalks need repair and more police presence is needed if the city is going to develop more activity downtown. “Pretty much every weekend I’m awakened by revelers out on the street. A couple of weekends ago, I had revelers on my roof and I’ve also had them hanging off the statues on the end of my buildings,” she said, adding that the city needs to address the security concerns downtown.
Klondaris said the city needs to have some kind of committee to explore possibilities before it approves the use of an alley for the first person who comes along. He said he didn’t understand what the hurry is as there’s much time left for this year. The agreement is for this year through Oct. 31 and May 1 to Oct. 31, 2017.
Frush said he’s been against it since day one, and in the past two weeks he’s had “a lot of voters come up to me, city people, and I’ve yet talked to the first person who is for this.”
Thallemer asked Frush what the voters’ concerns were, and Frush replied they just don’t want the alley closed because they think it should be open for traffic.
Shoemaker said the constituents who called him had concerns about access to city hall.
Thallemer asked Warsaw Police Department Chief Scott Whitaker if he has any concerns or issues with security downtown or has been made aware of an uptick in problems downtown.
“No, I’ve not been made aware of any increase in criminal activity or mischief in the downtown area,” he replied.
Whitaker said he doesn’t perceive the alley proposal as a concern, even if it were to go citywide. If a person would walk outside Oak & Alley’s gated area with an alcoholic beverage, they would be in violation of an city ordinance.
Clemens asked Whitaker if the police have had many calls of disturbances at Oak & Alley. Whitaker and Gustafson said they were not aware of any such calls.
Thallemer said weekends are busy times and he understands noise is an issue downtown, but it’s part of the downtown scene. If there are more problems that need addressed, he said he had no problems in beefing up any type of police patrols downtown.
He reminded the councilmen that this is a pilot program, is very controlled and was an attempt to bring traffic to the downtown. He said the Warsaw Community Development Corp. supports the proposal.
Grose spoke about previous studies the city has had done, like the Hyatt-Palmer Study, that advocated for programs like the alley proposal. He said he looked at it as a very conservative step in a direction the city has been looking at going for a while. He said he was encouraged by the project and thinks this takes the city in a good direction.
Thallemer said in the next few months, the Board will have before them an agreement that addresses seasonal outdoor dining on public ways.
The Board of Works approved the agreement 3-0.
In other business, the Board approved:
• Closing Canal Street between North Detroit and North Indiana Streets from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 10 for Family Safety Day. The event will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• Closing Fort Wayne Street from Buffalo Street to the midpoint of Central Park; Indiana Street from Central Park to just before Center Street; and Main Street between Buffalo and High Streets from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 17 for the Cubmobile.
• Approved an agreement between the Warsaw Parks and Recreation Department and Lake City Media for the 2017 “Rockin’ for Riley” and “Country Concert for St. Jude” concerts. The terms of the agreement are the same as the 2016 agreement.