Madison Heights DDA rolls out reduced cost liquor licenses

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 16, 2021

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MADISON HEIGHTS — New and existing businesses located in Madison Heights’ downtown district can now qualify for reduced cost liquor licenses.

The Madison Heights Downtown Development Authority, which encompasses property abutting John R Road from Garden Avenue to 10 Mile Road and abutting 11 Mile Road from Interstate 75 to Lorenz Avenue, is offering the discount through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Redevelopment Liquor Licenses Program.

To qualify, a business must commit to making an investment or reinvestment in its facility over a five-year period. The rehabilitation of the building must cost $75,000 or more, and in exchange the business will be able to purchase a discounted Class C liquor license for spirits, beer and wine.

“This is a great opportunity for existing or new businesses in the Madison Heights DDA to obtain a liquor license at a lower cost, while at the same time upgrading their facilities,” said the city’s economic development director, Giles Tucker, in a statement. “This allows business owners to provide more choices for their customers, and enhance the already strong Madison Heights restaurant scene.”

Bars and restaurants in the city of Madison Heights previously received help from the city in the form of eased restrictions and new resources early in the pandemic. A resolution that relaxed parking restrictions afforded them extra space for temporary outdoor seating. The city also provided free outdoor heaters, enclosures and other items to improve safety and comfort in outdoor spaces.

The city also hosted its first annual Restaurant Week last fall, which helped promote local dining establishments. The city is already planning another Restaurant Week for 2021.

In addition, the DDA offers facade and sign grants to existing businesses, in an effort to spur business activity and improve the overall aesthetic of the growing downtown district.

In a series of emails, city officials shared their thoughts on the district’s progress.

“Our DDA has made some great improvements recently, but we still have a long way to go,” said Madison Heights City Councilman Mark Bliss. “I’m encouraged by the success of DDA restaurants like Woodpile BBQ and Cadillac Straits Brewery, which have both become instant staples of both the DDA and Madison Heights as a whole. We must continue to do anything we can to incentivize the next restaurant like that to set up shop in our city, and these reduced cost liquor licenses are a perfect example of that.”

Madison Heights Mayor Roslyn Grafstein said that while progress has been made in the DDA, challenges remain.

“The biggest challenge I am finding with redeveloping our downtown is that we have many vacant buildings over which the city has no control. As long as property owners pay their taxes and keep properties up to code, the city and the DDA cannot legally require them to do anything else,” Grafstein said. “I hear of businesses wanting to lease or buy property, but the owners are not interested and the city cannot force them to do so.

“I was recently working with a business looking to move to the DDA. He found a location, but when he made an offer, the property owner substantially increased the price, making it unattainable,” she said. “I also met with a business owner who purchased property in the DDA, but because of the labor shortage, he has had to cut back staffing at his existing businesses, so he will not entertain thoughts of opening the new one until he knows he has the personnel to properly do so. 

“These are all issues that the city has no control over,” Grafstein said. “As COVID restrictions are relaxed, more people are getting out, and I am reaching out to potential restaurant owners about setting up in the DDA using one of our DDA-specific liquor licenses. With a minimum requirement of 25 seats, a small café can take advantage of this liquor license in a space that is less than 1,000 square feet.”

Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett noted how the food service industry was hit hard by the pandemic. He said that the city needs to do whatever it can to help.

“Many of our restaurants and taverns — a key component of our business development — experienced reduced revenue and growth opportunities since the spring of 2020,” Corbett said. “It’s vital that government at all levels — state and local — extend a firm hand of support to the DDA to encourage development.”