Entertainment district could bring bars, breweries to downtown Glendale
by Glendale Chamber of Commerce on September 8th, 2016

By: Jessica Boehm, The Republic | azcentral.com

​Downtown Glendale could be the site of the Phoenix area's newest entertainment district by year's end — opening the door for trendy new amenities like microbreweries and wine bars.

City officials say a new district would allow more flexibility to attract unique businesses and transform the downtown area, which lost key tenants during the economic downturn.

State law prohibits certain businesses that sell mostly alcohol, like bars, liquor stores and distilleries, from locating within 300 feet of a church or school. In the past several years, entrepreneurs interested in opening specialty bars and breweries were turned away because there are at least 26 churches and schools currently located in historic Glendale, said Jean Moreno, the city's executive officer of strategic initiatives and special projects.

But the creation of an entertainment district — much like ones in downtown Mesa, Phoenix and Peoria — would allow such venues to apply for an exemption from the 300-foot rule.

​The proposed district probably will be presented to the Glendale City Council at a workshop in October, with a council vote expected shortly after, Moreno said.

Path to a 'hip, vibrant' downtown?

The city's downtown is in the middle of an evolution, according to Glendale Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Robert Heidt Jr. An entertainment district could ensure the area's future includes an eclectic mix of "cool, hip, vibrant" businesses, he said.

​"It will really help us transform our downtown the way we see fit," Heidt said. "We, much like every other city, need to have every resource available to be competitive, to attract new businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs."

Across the Valley and nation, cities are investing in their downtown areas because they realize the value they provide, Heidt said.

"I think Glendale, our downtown, lends itself nicely to creating a greater character and charm to lead us into the future," he said. "We've got all the right attributes. Now it's just time to capitalize on what the new downtown looks like in everyday America."

Heidt also noted that many residents and business owners have differing opinions as to what is considered downtown Glendale. An entertainment district would provide specific boundaries and "really give us a core focus," he said.

​The proposed boundaries of the entertainment district stretch from 43rd Avenue to 61st Avenue along Glendale Avenue.

​Churches and schools cautiously supportive

Moreno said the city encouraged schools, churches and other concerned parties to attend a community meeting last month to answer questions about the entertainment district.

Nobody expressed opposition to the district at the meeting, but a few business owners and church leaders encouraged the city to adopt "time, place and manner" guidelines to use when determining what types of businesses receive liquor-license exemptions, Moreno said.

Pastor David Clark of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, which is near 56th and Palmarie avenues, said his opinion of the district is two-fold.

On one hand, Clark's congregation is interested in the revitalization of downtown and the potential positive economic development the district could bring, he said. But without specific guidelines, Clark worries the city could allow unfavorable venues near his church and school, which opened in downtown Glendale in 1927.

​"There's always a concern that something's going to go in across the street from your facility that would make it difficult for children and families," Clark said.

​While Clark knows the current city leaders' visions for downtown match his own, it's impossible to know what elected officials in five, 10 or 15 years may envision, he said. For that reason, the ordinance should be crafted in a way that protects current businesses and organizations in the area, he said.

"You have to at least say to the people in city government, 'We like what you're doing, we trust you ... but please understand that what we're concerned about is that the language be sufficiently tight,' " Clark said.

Moreno said the city researched how other Valley cities structured their exemption guidelines. In Mesa, for example, the downtown businesses agreed to adopt "good neighbor policies" and police themselves. In Peoria, the council must consider certain "compatibility" aspects before issuing a liquor-license exemption, Moreno said.

So far, public feedback indicates that residents want to maintain the "historic nature and charm of the downtown" and keep it "family-friendly," she said. Moreno noted that city staff members plan to use this feedback to form similar guidelines.

​Clark said all of the other stakeholders he's heard from, including other pastors and business owners, appear to share his opinion.

"We all agreed that we support this in general; we just want to make sure there's no loophole that's going to make us all sad someday," Clark said.


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