Entertainment district could lead to new liquor licenses

New liquor licenses could be coming to downtown Kent’s new developments with the proposed creation of a community entertainment district.

The entertainment district was proposed by Fairmount Properties developer Randy Ruttenberg in a letter to Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala.

Dan Smith, Kent economic development director, said creating the entertainment district would create four new liquor licenses to encourage new restaurants to locate in downtown Kent. He said the city is currently “maxed out” on liquor licenses and an entertainment district is the best way to bring more in.

The boundaries of the proposed entertainment district would be within the $100 million downtown redevelopment, Smith said, which includes the Fairmount Properties block, Acorn Alley II, Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center and PARTA’s Kent Central Gateway transit center.

A D-5j liquor permit can be issued within a community entertainment district under Ohio Revised Code if there is $50 million or more invested in development.

“Without question, the state was trying to incentivize people spending money on creating a district,” Smith said.

A new liquor license purchased through the state for a business in an entertainment district costs $2,340.

A few owners of established businesses in Kent say they’re all for the development, but would like a compromise on liquor sales to protect their businesses.

Mike Beder, owner of the Water Street Tavern, points out that local business owners who have purchased a liquor license at market value in recent years paid about $35,000 for the license. He suggested that businesses obtaining the new liquor licenses stop selling alcohol at 1 a.m., so that local bars won’t be impacted as much.

“I think that would be the fairest,” Beder said. “I definitely don’t think we should get in the way of any progress for downtown. The more places there are downtown, the more people come downtown.”

Beder said capping sales to 1 a.m. would also keep a restaurant atmosphere to the district.

Kent Stage owner Tom Simpson, who recently purchased a liquor license for his business, agrees.

“It’s great for Kent to see all these things happening,” he said. “In order to financially stay afloat, the sale of alcohol definitely comes into the equation. (A liquor license) is a substantial investment and it has value.”

Simpson declined to disclose the price of The Kent Stage’s license, but said it was in “the tens of thousands.”

Simpson said he’d like to see established business owners, city administration and incoming business owners come to the table for a discussion about what could satisfy all parties.

“I think it’s a great idea that we all come together and talk about it,” he said.

With new development, there is another license for new businesses opening in the area. The D-5i is required for new businesses with $750,000 of investment, at least 140 seats, 4,000 square feet and where liquor and beer sales do not exceed 25 percent of the gross sales, according to the Ohio Revised Code.

“This is specifically for high dollar reinvestment, the entertainment district is, to enable a high-end restaurant or pub to come into town,” said Smith, adding Laziza’s currently has the D-5i.

Smith said the next step is presenting the entertainment district to Ken City Council, which will most likely be April 4. If council approves, then the state will take additional steps to ensure the licenses are being used correctly.

Brad Tansey is the KentWired editor and Kyle McDonald is a staff writer for the Record-Courier.