Kent City Council approved new terms for potential businesses seeking to transfer liquor licenses into Kent through a new state process during its committee meeting Wednesday.
The new liquor license transfer process, called TREX, is a process through the Ohio Department of Liquor Control -- approved by the Ohio Legislature in mid-2012 -- that allows surplus liquor licenses to transfer from one community to another.
In September 2012, council set "high bar" guidelines requiring that any business that utilized the TREX process, have at least 4,000 square feet of dining space, a $750,000 investment and alcohol sales exceeding no more than 25 percent of total businesses, but allowed council to grant a variance if it deems a proposal appropriate for the city.
The guidelines were put in place to bring positive development and avoid creating nuisance bars, but council and staff began rethinking the criteria in March after a handful of potential applicants approached the city but fell short of the criteria.
The policy approved by council Wednesday seeks for businesses obtaining liquor licenses through the TREX process to invest at least $175 per square foot of space, be located in Kent's central business district, sign an economic development that's based off a business plan and allows the city to have final say if the liquor license changes hands, identify the specific type of liquor license it seeks and caps the amount of transfers the city will approve at three. Once three transfers are approved, the city will freeze any applications for one year to analyze how things play out.
"After the first three are done, we freeze it for a year, regroup a year later and see if it's working or should be expanded," Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said. "At a practical level, that makes the most sense."
Kent Law Director Jim Silver said an economic development agreement will allow the city to ensure it gets a return on allowing new licenses into the city that otherwise wouldn't be there.
"You are giving someone a right that they otherwise don't have, so maybe you get something for the city in return for that," he said.
Council then approved a license transfer, pending an economic development agreement, for a wine and jazz club named Secret Cellar on the basement level of Acorn Corner.
Developer Ron Burbick said the club, owned by Jim and Amy Bragg, will have a 1920s speakeasy theme.
"We're really a jazz club, not a bar," Burbick said, noting that Secret Cellar won't have hours past midnight and is geared toward professionals.
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