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Improvements at local restaurant will fulfill obligation to city

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published July 29, 2015

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Also making improvements on the Nautical Mile is Steve’s Backroom, which received a liquor license in 2009 in exchange for promises to make improvements to the building it occupies.

City Planner Liz Koto told City Council July 20 that earlier this summer, it was discovered that new windows were being installed at Steve’s Backroom, 24317 Jefferson Ave., without a building permit. When the city investigated further, she said, they discovered that exterior renovations approved in 2009 in conjunction with the liquor license for the restaurant had not been completed.

City Council can approve liquor licenses to establishments with fewer than 150 seats if the establishment has invested at least $40,000 in real property within the preceding 36 months or agrees to invest the same amount in real property within the following 24 months.

The approved site plan at the time called for the installation of new windows, similar to those that were being installed without a permit, and other exterior renovations that were supposed to be complete in 2010.

“I want to apologize,” said Charles Raffoul, the restaurant’s owner. “In 2010, the economy hadn’t come back yet.”

In a letter submitted to the city, Raffoul said that original estimates for the renovations topped out around $85,000, but when the bids went out to do the work in 2010, the project was going to cost upwards of $130,000. But since he had just spent $250,000 for a bar and stone brick oven, he did not have money to help contribute to the cost of the exterior renovations, which were being paid for by the building’s owner.

Koto said the improvements Raffoul did make likely met the dollar amount required for the liquor license, but were not the specific projects that council had approved.

“He spent it in different ways than what he originally said he was going to,” Mayor Kip Walby said. “It’s not what was originally agreed to.”

Councilman Peter Rubino said that, while he enjoys the restaurant, he was disappointed in what happened, explaining that he voted to give Steve’s Backroom a liquor license in anticipation of a redone facade and an outdoor patio.

“I was not trying to abandon my obligation, I was just trying to make my building a little more attractive so I could increase my business,” Raffoul said. “You can see that we’re all trying to enhance this district.”

Raffoul said the new windows — which he will get a building permit for — as well as a new awning, new paint and new lights on the outside of the building should bring a marked change, and that he would have the patio open with new landscaping by 2016.

Rubino made a motion, supported by Councilman Ron Frederick, to approve Raffoul’s new plans for the building, which would keep the liquor license in place. All proper permits would be required for the work. Council voted 6-0, with Councilman John Caron excused absent, on the matter.

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