Marietta Council discusses revitalization program

A state program aimed at generating economic activity by making more liquor licenses available to restaurants in Ohio’s smaller cities is back for consideration by Marietta’s City Council. But the program faces opposition from some of the city’s current liquor license holders.

During Tuesday’s meeting of council’s planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee, city development director Andy Coleman announced that Michael Ruscitto, owner of The Original Pizza Place on Second Street, had applied for establishment of a Community Revitalization District in Marietta’s downtown area.

Coleman read a letter from Mayor Joe Matthews, recommending that council approve Ruscitto’s request.

“You, as council, will have to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ by resolution within 75 days of the mayor’s Aug. 19 recommendation to establish a revitalization district,” Coleman told the committee members, adding that the timeline for council action is set by Ohio Revised Code.

State code provides for development of revitalization districts in specifically-designated areas of a city that include, or will include, a combination of entertainment, retail, educational, sporting, social, cultural or arts establishments.

The law makes additional liquor licenses available to restaurants located within a city’s established revitalization district.

The size of the proposed district in Marietta-97.5 acres encompassing approximately 10 blocks in the downtown and Harmar areas-would qualify for an extra 15 new “D-5” liquor licenses at an annual fee of $2,344 each from interested eateries located within the district.

“Alcohol could only be served until 1 a.m. at those establishments, and they must meet the requirement that 75 percent of their business is generated from food service,” Coleman said. “They must also be licensed as food service or retail food establishments.”

Any such business within the proposed revitalization district can apply for one of the liquor permits, including Ruscitto’s pizza restaurant.

“The creation of a revitalization district will substantially contribute to entertainment and retail opportunities for the community by allowing for additional restaurants and entertainment venues in downtown Marietta,” Ruscitto wrote in his application.

His request was backed by Main Street Marietta Director Jean G. Farmer and Charlotte Keim, executive director of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce.

“This will help keep our community more vibrant, and we’ll see more business competition,” Keim said.

But Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, disagreed.

“I think this is a terrible idea,” he said. “You’re going to legislate the loss of $60,000 to $70,000 for local businesses that already have their liquor licenses.”

Although those existing liquor permits can’t be sold by the business owners to which they belong, the availability of a liquor license can help leverage the sale of a restaurant or bar business to a new owner.

The new D-5 permits would only require license-holders to pay the annual $2,344 fee to the state liquor control board.

Noland said he has obtained and still holds an Ohio liquor license related to the Levee House business he currently leases to another operator on Ohio Street.

Councilman Michael Mullen, I-at large, also has a current state liquor license recently obtained for his Over the Moon Pizzeria on Front Street. Mullen did not attend Tuesday’s committee meeting.

Councilman Denver Abicht, D-at large, favors a revitalization district.

“If it brings more restaurants it would be a good thing,” he said. “We need more restaurants downtown.”

Council president Walt Brothers agreed.

“Our downtown businesses are currently under an unfair disadvantage to the larger chain restaurants out on Pike Street,” he said. “Establishing this district would help level the playing field for them.”

But Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, said at least two restaurant owners in his ward would likely oppose establishment of the revitalization district.

“There’s no point in introducing this legislation if it’s not going to have any support,” he said.

Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, in which most of the revitalization district would be located, said he would have to talk with restaurant owners in his ward before making a decision on establishing a district.

Kalter said he would introduce legislation to establish the district at the next council meeting at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 5 in the community building at Lookout Park.

“I’m personally in favor of introducing this legislation, then having a community conversation about it,” he said. “If there’s enough support for it we’ll continue to pursue passage of the legislation.”

Kalter noted it would take a majority vote from at least four members of council to adopt the proposed resolution.