By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa says it wants to create jobs.
Santa Rosa says it wants to fill vacant commercial spaces.
And Santa Rosa says it wants to make its downtown more attractive to Wine Country tourists.
But when a Petaluma businessman recently proposed opening a wine and liquor store that promises to accomplish all three of these goals, his application was rejected by city officials.
Now Vikram Badhan, owner of Wilibees Wine and & Spirits on Lakeville Street, is asking the City Council to overturn that decision.
He’s hoping the council tonight will view the high-end wine, beer and liquor store he wants to open on Third Street as economic boost to downtown, not as fueling alcohol related crimes as police contend.
“Since Traverso’s has been gone, I feel like there has been a big void in downtown,” said Badhan, a native of India who has lived in the United States since he was 17 and attended Santa Rosa Junior College.
Badhan wants to open a second Wilibees location in the former Kinko’s location at 700 Third Street. The 6,400-square-foot store would sell wine, liquor and beer, with a tasting bar and food service area for beverage and food pairings. He plans to “appeal to an upscale clientele” by carrying a large selection of fine local wines, single malt whiskeys and craft beers.
“Wilibees will be a place where you can meet a winemaker, learn about craft beers, taste and buy cheeses from local creameries, (and) buy flowers and chocolate,” Badhan wrote in the business plan he submitted to the city.
The shop would operate from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. on weekends, though Badhan said he is willing to close earlier if the council has concerns.
Within three years, he estimates, the business could generate $300,0000 in revenue per month, or $54,000 in annual tax revenue to the city. He plans to hire six full-time and six part-time workers.
But Badhan said he’s had a difficult time convincing city officials to see his business as anything more than a liquor store.
“I’m having trouble explaining what I am trying to do,” he said.
The state department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, characterizing the downtown as “oversaturated” with places to buy alcohol to consume off-site, won’t grant him a permit without City Council approval.
The department found that the downtown’s population of 2,079 people only qualified it for three such “off-sale” permits, but there are currently five, it said.
The city can approve such applications anyway if concludes that there a “public convenience or necessity” to the new business. But the Santa Rosa Police Department recommends rejecting the request, called the downtown a “high-crime reporting area.” Any district that has a rate more than 120 percent of average is considered a high-crime area.
Actually, the number of crimes reported downtown in 2011 was 963, or more than four times the citywide average of 215, according to an analysis done by Lt. Jerry Soares. He noted that the top two crimes in the area were driving under the influence of alcohol and public intoxication. For this reason, the department is against the permit.
Citing this opposition, Chuck Regalia, director of community development, concluded that “the criminal and nuisance behavior is directly related to alcohol consumption, and another outlet in the area would exacerbate the unwanted behavior downtown.”
But the state ABC analysis is inaccurate. Of the five permits in the downtown census tract, one of them is downtown in name only. It is held by Gregory Hayes, the owner of boutique winery Cosa Obra Wines. His mailing address is on Second Street, but he only sells his wines at wine shops and online, he said.
While he doesn’t sell his wine in Santa Rosa, he said he wishes there were more places where he could.
“It would be great if they had someplace more upscale downtown,” Hayes said. “If someone is going in that direction, all the more power to them.”
Of the other four permits, only one, Fourth Street Deli at 300 Mendocino Ave., is located in what most people consider downtown.
The others are Flyers, a convenience store at the Valero gas station at 300 College Ave.; The 440 Club, a bar at 434 College Ave. that also sells alcohol to go; and My Deli, which sells a limited about of beer from its location at 1035 Second St., east of Brookwood Avenue.
Jeff Sacher, a broker associate with Santa Rosa Realty, said he was blindsided by the city’s denial of the permit, and hopes the City Council sees the value Badhan plans to bring to the vacant location.
He argues that the downside of having an empty building on such a prominent commercial corner is far greater than any perceived risk to increased alcohol problems downtown.
“I think the best thing for all parties is to figure out a way to get him in there,” Sacher said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum @pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter@citybeater.