Provo City Council decided in a narrow vote of 4-3 to change land use ordinances to allow brewery restaurants to open in downtown Provo, the Riverwoods and the Provo Towne Centre mall.
Quinn Peterson, representing the business alliance Downtown Provo Inc., spoke about how recruiting concerns of businesses like Qualtrics. “It’s difficult convincing them to live in Provo because they live maybe a different lifestyle, so a lot of them are living in Park City and Salt Lake and commuting,” Peterson said.
He added that this lack of “high-end alcohol establishments” in Provo was the “linchpin” for tech companies and the Convention Center’s lack of outside involvement in Provo culture and economics.
Provo City staff provided the results from the public survey they issued. Provo Residents were invited to submit their concerns and answer questions as to how they felt about permitting restaurants to open up ancillary breweries on their premises. Over 80% of responses favored the ordinance change.
The council accepted the results weren’t scientifically accurate since the sample size was about 1,300 respondents, but they still used the requested survey as a general guideline of Provo’s residents’ positive feelings toward the ordinance change. They also re-opened the floor for residents who were in attendance at Tuesday night’s city council meeting to make their case one last time before the council voted.
BYU alumna Sage Pearson said she had heard about the controversy surrounding microbreweries in Provo via Facebook and decided to attend the meeting in support. She and her husband have three children, and she said that they try to teach them about drinking responsibly.
“There are a lot of ways to have a healthy family,” Pearson said during the meeting.
She said she attended the meeting to be a voice for people who are not a part of the dominant religious group in Provo.
“I feel like there is a lot of fear,” she said. “The term ‘family values’ is pretty arbitrary. The term ‘family values’ is shorthand for LDS values.”
Steve Christiansen was against the option of opening Provo to microbreweries. He and others expressed their concern over the purpose of the proposal. He said the lack of culture that surrounds alcohol is the kind of culture that he and his family wish to keep.
“We are not talking about prohibition here,” Christiansen said. “We should be concerned about efforts to make alcohol more attractive or more appealing by the environment.”
Provo resident Sherri Spencer said Chair George Handley “expressed what I couldn’t put into words about the environment and keeping it unique.” She referred to Handley’s statement of “Let’s keep Provo awkward,” which Handley said was a quoted quip about keeping Portland weird. Spencer said she didn’t want to lose the unique and safe space that Provo has become for its residents and for all the students that attend universities in the area.
Handley said that he wanted to promote Provo businesses similar to the Drybar Comedy club or Velour Live Music Gallery. He said that non-drinking residents attend these arenas for enjoyment and that similar business models could be created.
“There is not a compelling reason to say yes, I should say no,” Handley said regarding his dissenting vote.
NeCole De Rurange, a BYU exercise and wellness graduate, attended the session with her mother, Roxanne Hadfield. They both agreed that the introduction of a restaurant with adjacent microbreweries would be seen as encouragement for Provo children to drink.
Hadfield said she was concerned for the health of her grandkids and all youth because of the appeal of the different beer flavorings. She said it is similar to the reasons that made e-cigarettes appealing to teenagers.
De Rurange currently works with Utah Community Action’s Head Start program. She was against microbreweries in Provo because “proximity and accessibility make a big difference.” She said she has worked with children and youth, and she wants Provo to remain its own “microcosm” away from “all the vices” that could potentially hurt them and the Provo community.
Councilman David Shipley said he visited Springville’s Strap Tank Brewery in his own personal research of microbreweries. While talking with the management of the microbrewery, he found that these culinary establishments work hard to follow the guidelines set by the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and try their best to stay even lower in alcohol sales to never risk losing their liquor licenses. He also related Red Robin to microbreweries and said people already drink in environments similar to what a brewery would have if the land use ordinance was overturned.
Councilor Shannon Ellsworth expressed her approval of microbreweries and echoed Pearson’s statement of how perspectives on alcohol produced in microbrewery restaurants versus purchasing it from other sources were “arbitrary.”
She expressed that limiting alcohol because it was unhealthy or seen as a danger to society couldn’t be the deciding argument for her to say no. She voted for the amendment, along with Councilor Travis Hoban, Councilor Shipley and Councilor David Harding.
“Provo’s been recognized as a place to start a business, a place to invest in real estate, a place to live,” Peterson said. “Growth is going to happen, no matter what we do as a community, so it’s crucial that we make sure that we are growing in a good way. And decisions like this I think are imperative in that growth.”