PENDLETON — The latest plan to draw new business to downtown Pendleton has some who already own businesses crying foul.
In an effort to attract new restaurants, the Pendleton Redevelopment Commission is looking to offer liquor licenses to new businesses at an extreme discount through a proposed Riverfront Development District.
The district would stretch through downtown Pendleton along Fall Creek and allow a new business to purchase a three-way liquor license for $1,000. Traditional three-way licenses can cost $100,000 to $150,000.
“It’s not fair to give other people liquor licenses for just $1,000 when all the other places around here already paid their fair price for them,” said Connie Rector, owner of Gaia Natural Foods on State Street. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they all packed up and left.”
Under the plan, the new licenses would differ from the traditional licenses distributed by the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission. They would be non-transferable, non-transportable, and a business would have to reapply each year to ensure it met quotas, including more than $150,000 in food sales, said Rachel Christenson, Pendleton’s planning and zoning coordinator.
“What we want to do is have guidelines ... that would require restaurants to invest in downtown structures in order to get this license,” Christenson said. “If they don’t meet those requirements, the license will be pulled.”
Under the proposal, the town would offer two three-way licenses — meaning a business could sell beer, wine and liquor — in the area that is up to 1,500 feet outside a buildable bank of a flowing waterway.
The proposed district would include the north part of town along Pendleton Avenue near Falls Park, downtown areas along State Street and stretching south to Laurel Street and farther south along the train tracks.
Christenson said the riverfront district is part of the ongoing effort the revitalize the historic town’s downtown area with the idea new business might attract out-of-town visitors.
“We are looking at a lot of other things to do to develop our downtown,” she said. “Main Street funds … replaced sidewalks, repaved the road, working with business owners to do outdoor dining .. this is just another piece of the pie.”
The town looked to other Indiana municipalities that have created riverfront districts, including Columbus and Speedway.
In the case of Columbus, competition with current license holders was one of the concerns for the city as it looked to create such a district, according to city documents.
Though some owners resisted the idea in Columbus, a study looking at three areas of the district found that allowing the new businesses brought additional sales and business to the existing businesses.
Rector argued there are better ways to bring in shoppers than undercutting established businesses.
“What we need is retail downtown, a mixture of small stores that people come to and mosey through,” she said.
Although he isn’t sure where he falls on the plan, Jerry Burmeister, owner of Burmeister Old Towne Antiques, said he doesn’t want to see liquor sales near Falls Park.
“The park is kind of family friendly,” he said. “I want to keep it that way.”
But, as a downtown business owner, he’s open to ideas about ways to bring new people to the area.
“We are so lucky to have this downtown we have, and I only want to see it get better,” he said.