A downtown Eau Claire art gallery’s pitch to support the local creative economy won out over Chippewa Valley Technical College’s hands-on setting to train future restaurateurs when both vied for a coveted city alcohol license.
In a 7-3 vote Tuesday afternoon, the City Council opted to award the only available regular license for serving liquor, wine and beer to 200 Main Art and Wine instead of CVTC’s 620 West.
Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle gave kudos to CVTC’s new culinary program but said she gave her support to the art gallery because it is something residents will enjoy and also will draw visitors to downtown.
Gallery owner Jo Ellen Burke painted her business as part of the growing downtown arts and culture scene with plans to serve patrons of the Pablo Center at the Confluence, which opens Sept. 22. She said wine service helps attract visitors who might otherwise be intimidated by going into an art gallery.
“We feel that wine will enhance that,” she said.
CVTC culinary instructor Kevin Brown said 620 West will be a restaurant run by students needed to fill demands of the local economy for more workers who know everything from cooking to bartending.
“To have the realism of a real bar would benefit our students and members of our community served by our graduates,” he said, noting that one of the culinary program’s courses is mixology.
The program just began this semester, and the restaurant hasn’t yet opened inside CVTC’s Business Education Center, 620 W. Clairemont Ave. When it is operational, Brown said it will be regularly open to the general public for reservations on Wednesdays for lunch and other times for special occasions such as wine tastings and food pairings.
Community support was one criteria Councilwoman Emily Berge relied on to sway her vote toward 200 Main. She cited multiple letters of support for Burke’s plans that came in before Tuesday’s meeting. Letters of endorsement from Jamf co-founder Zach Halmstad, Eau Claire school board President Joe Luginbill and UW-Eau Claire Assistant Chancellor for Facilities and University Relations Mike Rindo were included in the meeting’s agenda materials.
But Councilman David Strobel was worried that the gallery’s economic impact would be limited due to its size. State building codes will limit wine service to 15 people in the gallery, unless it adds a second bathroom, according to city officials.
Burke said she believed capacity was not supposed to be a deciding factor for the license and added that without adding wine to the business, she’s worried it could not sustain itself on gallery sales alone.
“It will come down to us not being able to stay open,” she said.
The city does have five reserve alcohol licenses available, but they carry an initial cost of $11,500, versus $500 for a regular license.
“We cannot possibly afford a reserve license whereas others have resources,” Burke said.
An agenda for last week’s city License Review Committee stated that CVTC has applied for a reserve alcohol license in addition to the regular one.
When asked Tuesday if the local technical college could afford the pricier license, Brown replied that higher cost would essentially be passed along to taxpayers.
• The City Council voted 10-0 to sign a pact with the Eastside Hill Neighborhood Association for improvements to Boyd Park including new playground equipment, benches, a nature trail and a community garden. The agreement requires the association to raise money toward the improvements while the city would provide labor to build or install them.
• The Eau Claire YMCA will lease parking in a city-owned lot at the Soccer Park on Craig Road. For $6,000 annually, the YMCA will have nonexclusive rights for parking spaces used by those going to the Eau Claire Indoor Sports Center, 3456 Craig Road, which the YMCA recently bought.
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