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Borough Council Approves Liquor License Transfer For Planned Downtown Restaurant

A new sit-down restaurant took one step closer to filling a noticeable hole downtown when the State College Borough Council voted to approve the transfer of a liquor license Monday.

The vote approved the transfer of College Township liquor license to the planned tenants of 138 and 142 East College Ave. and 114 South Pugh Street

Monday’s vote marks the end of a three-meeting discussion of the transfer, which was originally pitched to Council at its July 1 hearing.

Council approved the request without restrictions, submitted by the firm AKE Enterprise, Inc., with a 4-1 vote. Council members Jesse Barlow and Katherine G. Dauler were both absent from Monday’s meeting.

AKE Enterprise, Inc., led by State College native Martin Gillespie, plans to establish a New Zealand-themed restaurant at the former location of Spats Cafe and Speakeasy. Gillespie and several partners currently operate several similar restaurants under their Queenstown Public House brand in San Diego.

Most Council members seemed to support Gillespie’s vision for a metropolitan, sophisticated establishment — what Council member Theresa Lafer described as a “real restaurant.” But several were hesitant to add another alcohol vendor to a town with a “severe binge drinking problem,” in the words of member Janet Engeman.

Council staff originally suggested restrictions that would force the restaurant to collect at least 65 percent of its revenue from food sales, but after an extensive discussion on efficacy of these restrictions, they decided to forgo them entirely.

Controversy regarding these restrictions, however, continued to abound in Council’s debate about the matter. During Council’s original hearing, Gillespie’s argued that his chosen insurance policy would force the restaurant to garner at least 40 percent of its revenue from food sales. But several council members were skeptical of this division, claiming that this limitation would not be enough to keep the restaurant from becoming a bar or tavern.

Council member Theresa Lafer cast the single opposing vote against the transfer and advocated for the originally-proposed restrictions, citing the massive undergraduate population that has swelled within State College in recent years.

“I do not believe that the insurance company’s 40 percent is better than a D, maybe a D minus,” she said. “If you don’t have a reason to go beyond that 40 percent, you won’t bother, and you will be a tavern.”

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About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is a junior English and history major and the features editor for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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