What could become Birmingham's newest bistro may not end up being a bistro at all as the developers behind Crush Bistro look at different ways to receive city approval.
On Wednesday night, Crush Bistro — one of three potential recipients of a 2013 Birmingham bistro license — will come before the Planning Board with an application for an economic development license.
Crush Bistro is vying for one of two bistro licenses Birmingham offers each year. Under the city's 2007 bistro ordinance, bistros are defined as having seasonal sidewalk seating, a full-service kitchen and no more than 65 seats inside and 10 seats at a bar.
Also in the running for a 2013 bistro license are existing restaurants, What Crepe? and Birmingham Sushi.
Plans for all three businesses passed an initial pre-screening by the Birmingham City Commission in mid-October, during which commissioners narrowed the field from six applicants to three.
And in mid-December, the Planning Board also gave all three applicants their stamp of approval though board members spent the majority of their time discussing only one: Crush.
Too big to be a bistro?
Crush is looking to move into the space under the 555 Building on South Old Woodward Avenue, along a service drive between South Old Woodward and Woodward. There is currently a concrete seating area there now.
The two-story restaurant would be owned by Marc Blancke and John Fleming, both of the Sinbads Restaurant in Detroit. Initial plans included two second-story dining patios.
While several Planning Board members were fans of Crush's proposed location — noting it would help invigorate the south end of Old Wooward — others weren't sure of its size, with Gillian Lazar noting the restaurant seemed too big to be a bistro.
And that's why developers are again returning to the Planning Board to request an economic development license for Crush on top of their request for a bistro license.
According to Planning Director Jana Ecker, Birmingham has the power to issue economic development licenses — a form of liquor licenses — to restaurants along Woodward that either make a $10 million investment in a property or increase the value of a property post-construction.
These licenses are significantly cheaper than regular Class C liquor licenses — they cost $20,000, Ecker said, the same amount as a bistro license — and are intended to spur development along Woodward. Zazios, which will close at the end of the month, is the only business to yet receive an economic development license from the city.
Two sets of plans ready for Planning Board — one for each kind of liquor license
According to Ecker, Crush developers were discouraged by their initial reception at the Planning Board and were afraid their plans for a bistro license may not receive final approval by the Birmingham City Commission.
On Wednesday, Crush is bringing two sets of final site plans for the Planning Board to review, a requirement since they'll be constructing a new building. One set of plans assumes Crush will receive a bistro license and includes all the limitations associated with bistros — from the size to the number of seats.
The second set of plans assumes it will receive an economic development and includes a larger floorplan, more seats and additional seating on the second-story patios.
Ecker said it's up to the City Commission to make the final decision. On Wednesday, she said the Planning Board could recommend both set of plans, only one or neither.
The final plans for all three bistro applicants will come before the Planning Board on Feb. 11. However, things could get complicated if the Planning Board recommends approval of the economic development license. That issue would come before the City Commission on Feb. 25, Ecker said.