Can you feel the good cheer? Alcohol reform is coming to Salt Lake City.
From the top of the political pyramid on down, multiple forces are at work. At the Legislature, lawmakers will hear Gov. Jon Huntsman's request to change the private-club structure. In Salt Lake City, the Downtown Alliance leads a group researching the creation of a hospitality district.
At City Hall, Mayor Ralph Becker says he intends to lead a comprehensive overhaul of the city's licensing and zoning of establishments that serve alcohol. And the City Council this month is hearing a proposal from a citizen who wants a zoning change to allow his beer bar (a "tavern" in Utah legal parlance) to become a "private club."
My vision for a neighborhood-based city is one of microcosms. In order to be "walkable," urban neighborhoods need to offer all kinds of services. In a survey commissioned by the City Council last summer, 87 percent of city residents want businesses within walking distance of their home.
I have two pleas: one for the neighborhood and one for downtown.
Andy's Place, a "tavern" at the corner of 500 East and 300 South, wants to become a Class D private club. Under Utah law, this would allow it to serve hard liquor. This busy downtown neighborhood is zoned residential-mixed use (R-MU), a category meant to "allow integration of medium-density residential and small-business uses at ground floor levels."
Andy's is a small neighborhood bar limited to 47 customers.
This area should have a neighborhood pub. We don't want a "private club" -- the more public, the better. As in the 9th & 9th neighborhood or commercial corners in the Avenues, such businesses can become assets to neighborhoods, providing a place for residents to meet and relax. The "Cheers"-like establishment is a space for community-building.
We weaken our neighborhoods by not allowing pubs to thrive, and endanger the public by making people drive out of their neighborhood to get a drink.
Notice I wrote "can become assets." There is no question pubs need to be harmoniously integrated. The city is taking this seriously and is highly sensitive to many issues -- noise, safety, hours, cleanliness, size, parking. Pubs must also be scaled appropriately to their surroundings. A destination-type establishment like Port O' Call or a dance club would clearly not fit in Andy's neighborhood.
My second plea is to drop the idea of a downtown hospitality district. How will it not feel contrived? Which blocks would be included within its eight-or-so square blocks? Why will one area be favored and another be denied preferential treatment?
Our downtown sprawls, and the existing nodes of nightlife need to be nurtured, not starved. Fledgling signs of life exist -- on Main, Broadway, State, at the Gateway and soon City Creek -- and their theaters, shops, eateries and bars all need neighbors to survive.
Instead of further contorting the market for these services by creating a hospitality district, downtown nightlife should grow organically. Let's lift the two-bar-per-block limit in the entire downtown business district, allowing it to become a healthy and diverse urban ecosystem. Downtown can be a safe and dynamic magnet for all -- tourists and Utah residents alike.
If approved to become a "private club," Andy's would still be just a neighborhood bar. It would, however, improve its services and increase profits, allowing the owner to reinvest in the property. If we lift our location restrictions on nightlife establishments, our downtown would be more likely to stave off urban decay, increasing all kinds of investment in the area. Salt Lake would be on its way to becoming the vibrant and world-class city we all want.
Luke Garrott is a member of the Salt Lake City Council, representing District 4.