A map of the proposed U.S. 31 Riverfront District, which is established along portions of Canary Ditch and Youngs Creek. Submitted photo
A map of the proposed U.S. 31 Riverfront District, which is established along portions of Canary Ditch and Youngs Creek. Submitted photo
More liquor licenses will soon be available to Franklin restaurants and bars.

Following a public hearing Wednesday, the Franklin City Council unanimously approved the establishment of two riverfront districts, a move that will allow businesses that exist or are planning to develop within two designated areas to apply for a liquor license.

The riverfront districts are located downtown and along U.S. 31, within three blocks or 1,500 feet of Young’s Creek, Hurricane Creek and Canary Ditch. Per state law, riverfront districts don’t have to be along rivers, but can be created alongside any body of flowing water, said Lynn Gray, city attorney.

Gray researched 53 similar communities that have also established these districts prior to the council’s approval Wednesday. Bargersville and Greenwood have also established riverfront districts in recent years.

The process for obtaining an alcohol permit involves evaluation by both city and state officials. Applicants submit their requests to the city, which prompts an evaluation by the mayor and the Board of Public Works and Safety. The final decision comes from the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission. Every business that applies for a liquor license is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, Gray said.

The need for the riverfront districts arose after the 2020 census eliminated the city’s ability to convert two-way liquor licenses into three-way licenses. The city currently has two-way licenses available but there are no three-way licenses, said Mayor Steve Barnett. Two-way licenses allow establishments to serve wine and beer, while three-way licenses allow wine, beer and spirits.

“At under 25,000 (people), you could take a two-way license and make it a three-way license,” he said. “Then when the last census came out, we were over 25,000 but under 30,000, so we weren’t allowed to do that anymore. It’s like we got penalized because we were in between the 25,000 and 30,000 population mark.”

Without the riverfront district, the city would not have received additional three-way liquor licenses to grant to businesses until it reached a population of 30,000, Barnett said.

Beyond the population barrier, having more licenses available through the riverfront district provides an economic advantage, Gray said.

“It really does just give us another arrow in our quiver to be able to attract businesses that we want,” she said.

Barnett emphasized that the intention behind the initiative is not to transform Franklin into an “alcohol destination” but rather to foster the growth of quality dining establishments.

The districts add to Franklin’s investment downtown and in the U.S. 31 corridor, Barnett said. Between 2021 and 2023 capital expenditures and investments in the Downtown Riverfront District exceeded $19 million. More than $2 million was invested in the U.S. 31 Riverfront District during that same period.

City officials contemplated establishing an additional riverfront district by Interstate 65, but there were not enough qualifying bodies of water, Gray said.

For businesses looking to develop outside of these riverfront districts, the district still may provide them with an opportunity. Barnett said restaurants currently established within the new districts that already have a liquor license can apply for a new license through this initiative, which would free up their original license for the city to grant to businesses outside of the designated districts.

“I just had a conversation yesterday with two business owners who said to me that if there is an opportunity for a business to come in out by the interstate, they would give up their license to get one of these (riverfront licenses),” he said.

Barnett predicted earlier this month that Iozzo’s Garden of Italy will be among the first to apply for a license through this program. The upscale Italian restaurant has long been an Indianapolis staple and has plans to open a second restaurant at 351 E. Jefferson Street later this year. With aged Italian cocktails a staple of its bar menu, the riverfront district is needed to bring the restaurant to the city.
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