by SEAN BATURA
The San Marcos City Council recently gave the go-ahead to Rooftop on the Square, an upscale restaurant/bar whose backers were blindsided by changes made in April to rules restricting the number of alcohol-serving establishments downtown.
On Oct. 18, city council members voted unanimously to grant Rooftop on the Square developers Brandon Cash and Scott Withers a variance from the city’s downtown alcohol permit requirements, thereby allowing them to redevelop an empty building at 126 Guadalupe Street into a two-story restaurant to include open-air dining on both floors.
“This has been a pretty long process getting it to council and everything,” Cash said. “So we’re super-excited that we’re actually seeing the light at the end of the tunnel — we’re actually going to get this thing opened.”
Cash said he and Withers plan to begin construction in November and open in January or February 2012. He owns two similar establishments in Austin; one on the UT campus and one on Sixth Street. Rooftop on the Square will be similar to the UT campus location, Cash said.
“You never know what to expect when you open one of these things, but we’d like to have bands,” Cash said. “We do a lot of that in Austin…We’re going to cross that bridge when we get to it. The intent is definitely to…provide a live music aspect down at the Square.”
The city council used the vehicle of an economic development incentive agreement to grant Cash and Withers a variance.
“The city seeks to promote local economic development and to stimulate business and commercial activity in the city by, among other things, encouraging new in-fill development and job creation in the downtown area,” states the economic development incentive agreement.
Cash and Withers had to jump through additional regulatory hoops to legally serve beer, wine, and mixed drinks because the building is downtown. In the spring, city staff had told Cash he would probably be able to serve mixed beverages as long as his establishment provided two four-hour meal periods per day. The meal period rule was proposed to replace the existing law that required at least 50 percent of an establishment’s gross receipts to come from sources other than alcohol sales, such as food.
Cash told city staff his business plan would fit within the proposed regulation, and he purchased the property. However, before he obtained necessary permits, the city council unexpectedly added more requirements: a six-month waiting period for a beer and wine permit, and a year waiting period for a mixed beverage permit.
“It’s just really hard to sustain a restaurant just on food sales,” Cash said Sept. 15. “And it would deter clientele. Most people go out to have dinner with a margarita or a glass of wine. It would basically kill the [business] concept.”
The council approved both waiting periods and the meal period requirement on April 19 by a 5-2 vote, with council members Chris Jones and Fred Terry casting the dissenting votes.
The city’s Economic Development Board on Sept. 15 unanimously advised the council to exempt Rooftop on the Square from the waiting periods. The property at 126 Guadalupe Street has stood vacant for almost 12 years and has been something of “an eye sore” and “the focus for graffiti and blight,” said Amy Madison, city economic development director.
According to a report Madison presented to the Economic Development Board on Sept. 15, the value of the property at 126 Guadalupe Street is $9,300 and provides $49 in ad valorem tax revenue to the city. The redevelopment of the site may increase its value to nearly $300,000 and result in property tax revenue to the city of about $1,591.
The economic development incentive agreement specifies the approximate future number of Rooftop employees and their estimated wages. The establishment will employ about eight full time employees and 19-25 part time employees, according to the agreement. The estimated average wage for the management team of four people is $45,000. Wages for 2-3 cooks will range from $10-$15 per hour. The average wage for the two hostesses may be $10-12 per hour. The remaining 9-12 staff, including bartenders and severs, would be paid $4 per hour plus gratuities.