Economic development and conservative culture will come to a head Tuesday, when Provo decides whether restaurants — in certain areas of the city — should be allowed to brew their own beer.
The City Council is expected to vote on a land-use change that would allow production of beer in two separate downtown commercial zones as well as The Shops at Riverwoods and Provo Towne Centre shopping areas.
Having brewpubs would be a significant step for Utah County’s largest city, which has not allowed manufacturing of alcohol in its downtown core since before Prohibition. (It is allowed in the East Bay industrial area, although there is not a brewery in that location.)
If approved, the council still would have to set local licensing requirements before a brewpub could open, said Quinn Peterson, executive director of Downtown Provo Inc. But the zoning change would mark a significant step for Provo’s economic development and image.
“This has been on our radar for a long time,” Peterson said. “Too many times in the past, we’ve had a businesses try and get turned away because the [brewpub] license doesn’t exist.”
Peterson recently approached the council about the zoning change because a Provo business was interested in opening a new restaurant with beer-brewing capabilities. Because the city’s zoning was unfavorable, the owner was considering opening in Salt Lake City instead.
While alcohol is a controversial topic for many in Provo, Peterson said, the proposal "isn’t that big of a deal. It doesn’t allow a tavern or a massive wholesale brewery,” he said. "It will just allow a restaurant that makes its own beer on-site.”
Passage could go a long way toward changing the small-town “misperceptions” that Provo, a city of more than 117,000 people, still seems to encounter.
“We’ve been recognized nationally for our tech community, our music and our arts,” Peterson said, "But we get ignored because people think we don’t have alcohol. That illusion is false.”
Indeed, the city, home to Brigham Young University, has several bars and taverns as well as numerous restaurants with state licenses to serve liquor with food.
Before the vote, the council asked the community to weigh in on the issue. More than 1,300 people answered a survey on Provo’s Open City Hall website, said Karen Tapahe, the city’s community relations coordinator. “It’s the most we have had, by far, on any topic.”
While comments were not necessary to participate in the survey, Tapahe said, nearly half of those who answered the questions left personal opinions — and nearly 90% of those were in favor of the brewpub allowance.
“Thank you for considering compromises," wrote one resident, “that will make more people from all walks of life feel more comfortable and welcome in our city."
Added another: “Breweries are generally locally owned businesses investing in the community. Also, for those who do drink, it is nice to go somewhere and feel normal.”
In Provo — where some 80% of residents belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches its members to abstain from alcohol — there are some people who don’t see a need to change.
“Provo is doing a great job,” explained one resident. “We don’t need to compete in every way. It is OK to be different.”
“If there are already many restaurants in the downtown area that serve alcohol, why do we need another one to attract business/tourists?" asked another commenter. "I understand why some people would like to eat in a place that brews its own alcohol and that we are losing tax dollars by them going to other places. However, these are tax dollars I’m happy to lose. I am not supportive of alcohol being served anywhere in my state, but especially not in my city, and especially not in a restaurant that caters to families.”
Safety is a major concern for many critics.
According to a staff report, Provo officials contacted the neighboring community of Springville, where Strap Tank Pub and Brewery opened in 2016. It was Utah’s County’s first beer-production facility in nearly a century
Public safety officials in Springville and Lehi — where Strap Tank opened a second brewpub — have not seen an increase in drunken driving or disorderly conduct, the report states.
In fact, Springville Police Chief Craig Martinez said that Strap Tank has been “a responsible community partner.”
Martinez said the department has worked with brewpub owners, educating them on what the community expects and how to promote safe, responsible drinking.
“It’s like a mullet," he said, referring to the haircut that is short in front and long in back. “It shows that we know how to party, but we also know how to do business.”
Residents will soon learn if Provo can do the same.