Split Council Vote on New Downtown Bar
East Lansing’s City Council voted 3-2 yesterday to approve a request for a new bar and restaurant to stay open until 2 a.m. serving alcohol. The establishment, Tin Can, will replace Spencer’s Stateside Deli and Pub, which in turn replaced Melting Moments Ice Cream on Grand River Avenue near Curious Book Shop.
The 3-2 vote divided as we have seen it time and again this year at City Council: Mayor Nathan Triplett, Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris, and Councilmember Susan Woods voted in favor; Councilmembers Ruth Beier and Kathy Boyle voted against.
Beier and Boyle said they were prepared to vote for the request if Council would require Tin Can to open at 11 a.m. and serve lunch (rather than opening at 3 p.m. as the owner plans) and to keep the kitchen open until at least midnight. This, they said, would widen lunch options downtown but also make it easier for Tin Can to meet the 50/50 rule.
East Lansing’s 50/50 rule requires that establishments selling alcohol earn at least 50% of their income from food. The idea is to discourage bars that serve much more drink than food, and to encourage restaurants. Boyle said she thought Council might be setting Tin Can up for failure by not requiring them to open for lunch.
But Triplett, Goddeeris, and Woods all said they thought it was up to the business owner to decide what hours he should keep, and that if the establishment failed to meet the 50/50 rule, it could be fined or have its special use permit taken away.
Tin Can is set to have a maximum of 84 seats. During the warm months, this will include outdoor seating in the back alleyway (behind the parking garage next to CVS). The outdoor seating will close at midnight.
Because of its nearby location, St. John’s Student Parish had to be asked by the City whether it had any objections to the plan. Father Mark Inglot of St. John’s Student Parish responded to the request in an email dated September 22, replying that it is “Too far from the church for me to care or have an opinion.” During public comments, only one person spoke in favor of the plan, saying he knows Tin Can’s owner personally and thinks he will be good for East Lansing.
Goddeeris said she thought Tin Can was likely to succeed in part because minors would not be allowed late in the evening. She said the East Lansing Police saw no problems with the plan and she said the business was not a “stereotypical” place serving alcohol.
Goddeeris criticized the owner of Spencer’s Stateside Deli and Pub, currently at that location, saying he did not come through with what he had said he would offer. She said it was supposed to be a restaurant “but advertised only drinks.” (In fact, signs outside and in the window of Stateside have advertised a variety of sandwiches.)
Tin Can operates other locations in Lansing, DeWitt, and Grand Rapids, and its website describes the chain as a “world class beer bar.” But various members of Council avoided calling Tin Can a “bar”—calling it instead a “restaurant,” as the East Lansing 50/50 rule will require selling of food.
Beier said she personally likes the kind of bar Tin Can is—serving “cheap beer in cans”—but said there is clearly an “undue concentration” of the same type of business downtown. She specifically named Dublin Square, Rick’s, PT O’Malley’s, Hopcat, Peppino’s (now The Fieldhouse), El Azteco, Bistro 43, Buffalo Wild Wings, Peanut Barrel, and Black Cat Bistro, which are all within a quarter-mile radius and are all open until 2 a.m. serving alcohol.
Beier said that using this location for another bar would prohibit some different type of establishment from using the space. She said this was “crowding out” options for other types of businesses in East Lansing’s downtown. She said she did not want “another 2 a.m. bar.”
In response to a pre-meeting question from Beier about whether City Planning staff thinks there is an "undue concentration" of establishments serving alcohol until 2 am downtown, staff member Darcy Schmitt responded, "The applicant proposes to have an employee located at the front door checking identification and an employee at the rear door making sure that there is no one on the patio after midnight or that no one exits the restaurant through the rear door."
Triplett said that Tin Can is run by a “proven operator” whom he believes can responsibility operate this business downtown. He said the owner was creating a more extensive menu for East Lansing than for his other locations in an effort to address the 50/50 rule. He said there was a “legitimate difference of opinion” about whether there is an “undue concentration” of this kind of establishment downtown.
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