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Proposed Riverfront District Draws Ire of Columbus Restaurant Owners

Public concerns voiced at a meeting Tuesday have led the Columbus City Council to delay a vote on a proposal to create a downtown riverfront district.

Instead, the council will hold a public forum and consider a revised measure on April 21.

In its current form, the proposal would create ten new three-way liquor licenses. The new permits would allow businesses to sell wine, beer and liquor, and would cost $1,000 apiece.

Currently, all of the city’s 27 three-way liquor licenses are in use. When they have changed hands, some have sold for as much as $150,000. Columbus Mayor Fred Armstrong said restaurant owners, many of whom have paid more than $100,000 for their licenses, were upset new licenses would cost so little.

He said the council will try to address [restaurant owners'] concerns over the next seven weeks, but it will take work.

“It’s going to be hard to do that,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said there are currently no incentives built into the riverfront district proposal for potential businesses besides the opportunity to buy inexpensive liquor licenses.

He said the city envisions growth spurred by restaurants that buy the licenses. Armstrong said the district is not about liquor licenses, but economic development.

“We’re not trying to sit here and say we want to build buildings because buildings are pretty. Well, there’s more to it than nice buildings. There are activities and nice things for people to do. And that’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.

Armstrong said the district is also needed to attract those who work and live at nearby Camp Atterbury military base. He said the city can reap economic benefits from visits by service members.

“[The military base] is growing every single day and probably will be for several years. Those people need a place to come for recreation and dinner with families. Maybe some of them are single and they just want a place to go,” Armstrong said. “And hopefully that will help current restaurants with overflow.”

The ten new licenses that could be created under the plan would be limited to the riverfront district and could only be bought and sold by businesses operating within those borders.

No date has been set for the public forum.

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