Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Metro OKs alcohol at Farmers Market eateries

Action still needs state approval to be final By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • January 21, 2009 Visitors to some Nashville Farmers Market restaurants could enjoy a beer or a glass of wine with lunch before long. The Metro Council approved a lease amendment Tuesday that would allow the eateries to sell alcohol, subject to approval by the state, which owns the land on which the city facility sits north of downtown. The council also approved a nearly three-square-mile tourism development zone around a proposed downtown convention center. The city will be able to use the difference between existing sales tax revenues within the zone and the amount generated by business brought in by the new convention center for up to 30 years to pay for construction of the center if the council signs off on the $635 million project. The revenues the city and state collect from the area and use for other purposes will not be affected, Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said. No one knows how much new money the development zone might generate. Phil Ryan, executive director of the Metro Development and Housing Agency, which is spearheading the convention center project, said it would take a month or so to determine the baseline tax collections in the zone. The roughly 1,800-acre area will stretch north to Jefferson Street, east to Interstate 24, south to Interstate 40/Interstate 65 and out to 21st Avenue at the southwest corner. It will be about 120 acres smaller than the maximum size allowed by the state. LP Field and Sommet Center will be excluded. Ryan said in an interview that he and other facility planners believe the development zone is the right size, based on where a new convention center might spur development. Councilman Eric Crafton raised questions about the zone and ultimately cast the only vote against it. "How can we even determine that this is the area that we need?" he said. Riebeling said that if the zone generates more money each year than officials expect, the city would pay off its debt sooner and then eliminate the zone. More income chances Jeff Themm, director of the Farmers Market, said allowing alcohol sales would generate needed income. He said he envisions some of the market's seven restaurants, which are only open at lunch, selling beer and wine. Themm said he hopes the restaurants can open at night in the next couple of years. In the meantime, the market could attract some evening events at which beer, wine and liquor would be sold, he said. The council voted to defer for one meeting a more controversial bill about alcohol sales. That legislation would ban most sales of single bottles and cans of beer downtown in an effort to control vagrancy, litter, panhandling and public intoxication. Critics say the measure would do little to solve those problems and would hurt convenience stores' bottom lines.

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