Scottsdale is in the midst of a bar fight — only instead of punches and beer bottles being thrown, this brawl is being fought with special permits.
At issue is a conflict of visions for the downtown area: In one camp are champions of the 24/7 lifestyle that is rapidly growing there, and in the other are those who think there are too many bars causing problems.
Downtown bar owner Brian Ruede found himself in the melee at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, where council members turned down by a 5-2 vote his request for a special-use permit for his drinking establishment, Next Lounge & Nightclub, 7111 E. Fifth Ave.
The city is allowing Next, which has been open since 2002, to continue operations until the matter can be resolved.
Currently, the city considers Next a restaurant even though it does not meet a requirement of having food constitute more than 40 percent of its sales. Ruede is seeking the permit to change its status from a restaurant to a bar.
However, the council did not approve Ruede’s request because he does not yet have a business plan for some type of daytime operation at his establishment, which the city requires of bars.
“We need to find a healthy balance,” Ruede told the Tribune on Wednesday. “You can’t have too many bars and nightclubs in one area, but you have to have enough of them.”
Three years ago, the city began requiring that bars obtain a special-use permit to operate in downtown Scottsdale.
Some nearby merchants asked the city to reject Ruede’s request, arguing there are too many bars in the area with trash, noise and fighting problems.
Real estate agent Mackey Martin, whose office is near Ruede’s bar, said she thinks the area has enough bars.
“We have to shut down for parties. . . . It hurts our ability to get to work on Saturdays and Sundays,” Martin said. “We’re going to have 6,000 to 8,000 people living down here in the next few years, and the (city)scape has got to be user-friendly.”
The city has issued special permits to three other area bars and is currently considering special permit requests from three downtown restaurants.
“When we complain about vandalism, unruliness, littering — everybody from the police to the City Council empathizes with the problem, but no one does anything with its solution,” wrote downtown gallery owner Agnese Udinotti to the planning commission in late February. “I thought the motto of downtown was ‘Art and Culture.’ We risk making it into ‘The Art and Culture of Drinking.’ “
Ruede was somewhat perplexed that the council did not approve his request. No one spoke publicly Tuesday against his request, city staff recommended approval, and the planning commission earlier this year recommended unanimously that he get the permit.
Ruede said he’ll keep searching for a solution.