Revitalization district debate

Business was booming at The Original Pizza Place Wednesday as lunchtime patrons lined up for a salad, sandwich or slice of pepperoni pizza.

One thing they couldn’t buy was a cold beer to go along with their meal, but that’s something the pizzeria’s owner hopes to change.

Charles Sommer, who owns the building on Second Street where the Original Pizza Place is located, has applied for the establishment of a 110-acre revitalization district that covers 10 city blocks in the downtown and Harmar areas.

If his application is approved by city council and the state grants the revitalization district, up to 15 new DL5 liquor licenses would be made available to restaurants located within the district’s boundaries, including The Original Pizza Place.

“We’re not looking to change the atmosphere of our restaurant into a bar, we just want customers to have the ability to have a drink with their meal if they choose. And we often have customers who ask for a beer,” said manager Kasandra Ruscitto.

She said if the revitalization district is approved and a liquor license obtained, the Marietta pizzeria would be the first of the Parkersburg-based company’s stores to serve alcoholic beverages, although it would continue to be a family-friendly business.

Rich and Ivy Siley of Marietta were among those enjoying lunch at The Original Pizza Place Wednesday.

“It would be nice to have more of a variety of restaurants downtown,” Rich said. “As for liquor sales, it doesn’t really matter to me. Sometimes I like a beer with my pizza. But I’m going to eat their food whether they sell beer or not.”

Ivy said the revitalization district would be good for Marietta’s downtown region.

“I think Marietta needs something other than tourist attractions,” she said, noting many people travel to Parkersburg to find a better variety of eateries.

“We’re sending a lot of money to Parkersburg,” Rich added.

More restaurants seemed to be the sentiment of many folks in the downtown area Wednesday.

Joy Bowen of Marietta said she has lunch downtown nearly every weekday.

“I would like to see more restaurants that provide fast service but are not too expensive,” she said.

Amber Wright of Coolville agreed and supports the idea of a revitalization district with a variety of places to eat.

“Absolutely we need more restaurants, and I’m all for the smaller mom and pop food places,” she said. “The liquor sales wouldn’t concern me at all. And with so many college students in town I think local restaurants would do a lot more business.”

But the revitalization district proposal doesn’t appeal to everyone.

Asunta Damron, owner of the My Favorite Things shop near the south end of Front Street, said the city doesn’t need more liquor licenses.

“We have enough liquor establishments here,” she said. “What restaurant up and down Front Street doesn’t already have a liquor license?”

Damron noted her business is located next to a downtown bar that’s usually open late on Friday and Saturday nights.

“When I come to open up in the mornings I have to clean up all kinds of trash and broken bottles from in front and all around my store,” she said, adding that drunken bar patrons also often throw up on the sidewalk in front of her building.

If the district were put in place, the licenses would go to restaurants, not bars.

To qualify for a liquor permit state law requires eateries to obtain at least 75 percent of their business through food sales.

A few buildings up the block is Austyn’s restaurant, where co-owner Phi Chen said he had mixed feelings about the proposed revitalization district.

“It could bring more business downtown, which would be good for this area,” he said. “And I’m not too concerned about competition for our restaurant as we have the best food in town.”

But Chen said his main concern would be the devaluation of his liquor license.

“For those of us who already have liquor licenses it’s a problem,” he said. “I paid $50,000 to get my license, and I pay a $2,344 fee to keep it renewed.”

If the revitalization district is approved Chen said other restaurant owners who don’t currently own liquor permits will be able to get one by simply applying for the new D5L license and paying the $2,344 fee.

“That would devalue my license,” he said, noting that Marietta, which currently has 19 active liquor licenses, has reached the saturation point for liquor permits.

“And I don’t see the population increasing in this area,” Chen added. “City council really needs to consider the existing liquor permit holders when they make a decision on this revitalization district.”