Provo officials decide whether to allow brewpubs in downtown

PROVO, Utah (AP) — As the executive director of a nonprofit that specializes in promoting tourism in Provo, Quinn Peterson has a front-row seat to the city’s growth: Coffee shops, restaurants, apartment buildings and a shiny new convention center have transformed the downtown over the past decade.

But Peterson says one caveat often dissuades businesses from moving to Provo — alcohol.

“The No. 1 reason that they don’t choose Provo or the Utah County Convention Center is that we don’t have adequate alcohol establishments,” he told the Provo City Council in January.

Peterson, who leads Downtown Provo Inc., wants to change that. On Feb. 18, the Provo City Council will vote on an amendment to city code that will allow brewpubs downtown.

Peterson proposed the change after being approached by a restaurant owner interested in opening a brewpub in Provo. The potential developer is currently scoping out locations, but won’t purchase anything until the City Council votes on the land use amendment.

“We’re not looking for a bar, we’re not looking for more alcohol,” Peterson told the Deseret News. “We just want to create a nicer, higher-end, family-friendly environment where a visitor or resident can get a meal with a unique beverage.”

The brewpubs would be permitted in the general downtown, downtown core and regional shopping center districts of Provo, according to the proposed changes. They would fall under the same requirements as any other alcohol-serving restaurant in Utah, meaning at least 70% of sales need to come from food.

Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi indicated she would support the change.

“Although I’m not a drinker, I currently see little downside to allowing microbrewery restaurants” she said in a statement, adding that Provo Police Chief Rich Ferguson has not raised any public safety concerns.

“We’ve had bars and restaurants serving alcohol in Provo for decades,” said Kaufusi. “But I want to hear from residents.”

Cliff Strachan, the executive director for the Provo City Council, echoed the mayor’s statement.

“The City Council recognizes there are many viewpoints on the issues,” he said. “They are receiving and reading a great deal of emails, taking phone calls and will be reviewing additional information as they make up their minds.”

“This is a sensitive issue for a lot of people,” said Peterson, who also doesn’t drink. The idea of having more places to buy alcohol is unsettling to some living in the conservative city, a sentiment that was on display during the January City Council meeting.

“Boutique beers are not and should not be the thing that makes Provo unique,” one man said in a recording of the January meeting.

“I don’t think that microbreweries are going to help Provo city’s economic development,” said another.

But other residents voiced their support for the amendment, saying they were inspired by the ways Provo is changing.

“Kids will find alcohol wherever they can get it, why not build families that can take them and have a good experience,” said one man.

And according to an online poll launched late January, Provo residents are overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment — roughly 90% of survey participants support the ordinance and 89% would visit a restaurant in Provo that brews its own beer. Only 8% classified themselves as “not supportive at all/not very supportive.”

Within four days over 850 people responded to the survey, far more than most issues currently posted on Provo’s online engagement platform. Karen Tapahe, community relations coordinator for the Provo City Council, said topics usually receive between 300 to 400 responses.

“We have an actual representation of the population who supports this,” said Peterson, referring to the 60% of survey respondents who said they don’t drink alcohol. “I think we’re learning as a community that being different is not being bad.”