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"No, you can't tear houses down for every business," says Ortmann. "But our reputation now is, we're not seen as a business-friendly city. If you were going to invest $100,000 or $200,000 in a business here, wouldn't you make sure that there's going to be sufficient parking to satisfy your customers? Because without parking you can't exist."
Not surprisingly, Boyle is also reluctant: "You can plan all you want, but if the people with the money don't agree, nothing's going to happen. The reason there's a controversy in the first place is that I'm being pro-active in development. You need people who are willing to take a risk, who have a vision and who have access to money and the other things you need to get anything done."
One of the biggest hurdles facing the district won't be cleared with ample parking, though. Visitors to South Grand may have space galore for their cars, but that won't prevent them from parking, making a beeline for their destinations and then leaving as quickly as they came. Current TGHNA president Michael Renner, who also works with the Grand South Grand coalition, a marketing group dedicated to promoting South Grand as a unique local destination, says more is needed. "A lot of places on South Grand, especially the restaurants, are destination-type places. The goal of Grand South Grand marketing work is to get people to move from place to place. The biggest lack is nightly entertainment."
In the past, the neighborhood associations and the aldermen have opposed the issuing of cabaret licenses on South Grand. Such licenses are required for any establishment that permits "dancing," which has been interpreted to apply to almost any live-music venue. Vining in particular had a reputation as an old-style machine politician who had no interest in anything edgy happening on South Grand. (She declined to comment for this story.)
But South Grand's political landscape has been altered with the election of Ortmann two years ago and Florida this year. "I look at the district and say, 'OK, we have a lot of different kinds of restaurants,'" Florida says. "'What do we need to draw college kids and have some nightlife that's also family-friendly?'"
Ortmann, part-owner of the Cat's Meow bar in Soulard, is one of several aldermen who have declared liquor-license moratoriums in their wards, moratoriums that are still in effect. But, he says, the moratorium is intended to prevent a number of liquor stores from opening on Cherokee Street, also in the 9th Ward, and a process exists for circumventing the ban if a potential business has gained both his support and that of the neighborhood. He declares his willingness to work with potential club owners: "Would I like to see live entertainment on South Grand? Definitely, as long as the place is well managed."
"What the neighborhood association is looking for right now," says Jones, "is some kind of interaction between the commercial district and the neighborhood to determine how to incorporate nightlife into South Grand." Jones lives "right around the corner" from the Upstairs Lounge and hasn't personally noticed any problems.
Marston adds, "Obviously I'd hope music wouldn't be so loud that people couldn't sleep, but I think it could be accommodated."
One telling question: Where are the young entrepreneurs who are willing to gamble on a new music venue, the boisterous likes of which brought life to Washington Avenue? Some area denizens say the chilly climate for such ventures on South Grand has given the area a bad reputation. Stories about past failures are swapped over beers, implying that a cycle of apathy and resignation has set in. Says one South Grand bartender who has watched his employer's ideas for expansion be rejected time and time again by the city: "I like to complain that there's no good music club on South Grand, but I'm not at the point where I want to get a license and do it."
Is anyone? A music-venue gambler would have to be willing to take on a confusing bureaucracy, would have to give birth to a fragile new venture in a climate tainted by historical grudges. Such a person may never emerge. But until one does, South Grand's nighttime potential remains untested. The local hipsters will continue to travel elsewhere for their nightly kicks. You can still get a beer here late at night, but the occasional subwoofer cruising by will be your only soundtrack.
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