Franchise restaurants interested in building if liquor vote passes, W'burg Mayor says
Six days from now Williamsburg voters will decide whether to allow the sale of alcohol by the drink at certain restaurants, and if the measure is approved the town could have at least two new restaurants in its future, according to one city leader.
The group opposing the alcohol referendum says they have their doubts on whether this would materialize.
Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison told the city council during it's monthly meeting Monday, that said he has been contacted by two separate groups of investors, who plan to open different franchise restaurants in Williamsburg if voters approve the alcohol referendum.
If approved, the referendum would allow the sale of alcohol by the drink at restaurants, which seat at least 100 people at derive at least 70 percent of their proceeds from food sales.
It is the same referendum that Corbin voters approved in 2003 by a nearly 300-vote margin, and one that Williamsburg voters defeated in May 2006 by a vote of 790 - 577.
Harrison said that investment groups don't normally want to disclose they are thinking about opening a business in an area largely because when word gets out, property prices tend to sky rocket.
For instance, Tractor Supply was in town scouting perspective locations for nearly a year before buying property and announcing that they would open a store.
Harrison said both of these restaurant groups gave him permission to disclose that they planned to locate in Williamsburg if the referendum is approved.
Neither investment group wanted to be identified, and neither would disclose what restaurant franchises they are considering, Harrison said.
He cautioned that neither restaurant would open over night, and it might take a year or longer to open.
"We do have two commitments, depending on what happens next Tuesday, from separate groups, who have committed to putting in a restaurant," Harrison said.
Harrison said he hopes everyone in Williamsburg will vote next Tuesday, and he feels that it is important people hear both sides of the issue before casting their ballots.
"I wanted to make this announcement basically because of all the negative comments that I have been hearing and reading, which state Williamsburg can never have anything here," Harrison said. "I hate that. Yes, we can have stuff here."
Have their doubts
Pat Marple, Chairman of the Citizens Against the Sale of Alcohol, said that he has his doubts that a franchise or chain restaurant would come to Williamsburg even if the alcohol referendum is approved.
"You have to look at demographics for these big chain restaurants that they want to come in," he said. "We didn't meet their demographics in 2006 and it is very doubtful we meet their demographics in 2012.
"There is vacant land out there. If the people, who are wanting the alcohol by drink in restaurants, want one, why don't they go and build one? What is stopping them? Those are just questions I ask and I'm curious about the answer."
Marple said that since I-75 was completed in the 1960s, there hasn't been one franchise or chain family restaurant opened off Exit 11 in Williamsburg.
The only restaurant there now with 100 seats or more is the Cumberland Inn, and Marple said University of the Cumberlands' officials have assured him that it won't serve alcohol regardless of Tuesday's vote.
Marple said that according to county leaders, businesses routinely show an interest in locating here because it is adjacent to I-75, but the only things that have opened off Exit 11 are either fast food restaurants or gas stations.
He added that Pineville approved a "moist" alcohol vote in 2006 after a developer promised to build a hotel there, but that so far the hotel still hasn't been built.
Citizens Against the Sale of Alcohol have scheduled a rally for 3 p.m. Sunday in front of the Whitley County Courthouse, and are hoping that at least 200 people attend.
The case for alcohol
"I'm sure there are going to be a lot of people upset with me over this, but if you are going to go vote, you should vote educated on both sides," Harrison said. "I'm not pushing an agenda here. I'm not telling people what to vote for, but I just feel people need to know."
After Monday's meeting, Harrison noted some of the economic benefits that alcohol sales could bring to Williamsburg.
If new restaurants open or existing restaurants expand because of alcohol sales, then they would hire new people and increase the value of property.
This in turn would generate more occupational tax revenue and greater property tax revenue.
Harrison said a typical restaurant would hire 30-45 people. If the two new restaurants open, this would be about 70 new jobs.
"I read something the other day that said this wasn't any good because it was low paying jobs or minimum wage jobs," Harrison said. "My first jobs were minimum wage. They taught me how to work, helped me pay to get through school and to college, and today I have a career - a retired career now. A job is a job."
"I know one of the arguments is that alcohol sales tax revenue only goes to the police department," he added.
If an alcohol tax generates $20,000 for the police department's use, then that is $20,000 in the general fund, which would have gone to the police department, which could then be used for other things or increased policing, Harrison said.
So is Harrison officially taking a side in the alcohol vote?
"I'm taking a side for Williamsburg," he said. "I am going to fight until they kick me out of here, and the council will too, to make this the best town we can possibly make it.
"If that is wet, we will go there. If it is not, we will back up and punt. I do know a lot of times progressive communities get more. They have a look about them. I don't know how that plans out. We'll see Tuesday."
How does Harrison plan to vote Tuesday?
"I am going to go in there and vote my conviction," he said. "I don't even tell, who I vote for president. I don't tell how I vote for senator. So I'm not going to tell how I vote for this."
The case against alcohol
Marple said that many are concerned that allowing the sale of alcohol by the drink in restaurants will lead to packaged alcohol sales in the future, as evidenced by Corbin.
Corbin voters approved alcohol sales by the drink in restaurants in 2003, and last month approved the sale of packaged alcohol in stores by a vote of 887 to 789.
"They tried to pass it in London, and they failed. I think London citizens saw the light and saw what was coming and they voted it down," he added.
Marple said many pro-alcohol forces argue that approval of the measure will mean economic development and growth for the city, which isn't necessarily the case.
From 2000 until 2010, the population in Corbin, which approved alcohol sales during that time, decreased 432 people and the median household income dropped $4,060 during that time.
"That's not signs of progress," he added.
Somerset, which has voted out alcohol three times in the last 21 years, is one of the most prosperous cities in this region.
Marple agrees that he would like to see growth and development, but says it takes hard work. Prayer and planning are key rather than alcohol.
"We have educated people, who went and got a degree and a PhD in economics and business. What happened to our ingenuity and our creativity of things," he said. "Instead of relying on something like alcohol to pull us out, we can do better than that."
Even if a restaurant opens with alcohol sales, that doesn't mean it will be successful.
Since Corbin has been moist, nine restaurants in Corbin have opened, which sold alcohol, that have since failed.
Polls will be open Tuesday from 6 a.m. - 6 p.m. for the six polling precincts in Williamsburg.
Only people, who live inside the Williamsburg city limits and are registered to vote in the city, will be allowed to vote during the special election.
Whitley County Clerk Kay Schwartz said that three of the precincts are split between voters, who live inside the city limits and those who don't.
This often causes some degree of confusion during elections as does the fact that some people may live inside the Williamsburg school district, but not inside the Williamsburg city limits.
"I think it will generate confusion, but we are here and have our voters coded," Schwartz said. "City hall has worked with us and I think we will be OK."
In order to vote in this election, people had to have been registered by Feb. 21 in the Williamsburg city limits.
Schwartz said that as of noon Tuesday, 13 people had voted via absentee ballot at her office in Williamsburg.
"I think we will have a pretty good turnout. I am basing that on the interest that I have had from the phone calls and the signs that I have seen from around town," she said. "I believe Williamsburg will have a 35 to 40 percent turnout."
About 31 percent of registered voters went to the polls in Corbin last month to cast ballots in the wet-dry election.
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