ALTON — "I move for the adoption."
As the packed room held its breath, no one gave a "second" to Alderman James Ryan's move for adoption which would allow a text amendment to the C-4 zoning ordinance, opening the door for Grand Piasa Body Art to relocate downtown.
Just when it began to look as if the council would not vote on the issue, Alderman Charles Brake decided to second the motion, moving the vote forward.
"It's time we remember that when we try to advance this downtown business district, we are trying to make it compatible with people much younger than I," Brake said, smiling.
In the end, Alderwoman Carolyn McAfee also voted yes. Aldermen Michael Velloff, Gary Fleming and David Boulds voted no. With a supermajority needed to pass the amendment, the deciding vote was decided by Mayor Brant Walker, who voted yes.
The vote was not without a restriction, however. Brake proposed to allow just one tattoo shop; ensuring other tattoo shops wanting to open in the C-4 district would have to go through the same process as Grand Piasa owner Chris Hinkle.
In what Alton Fire Chief Bernie Sebold says was the largest crowd he can remember seeing in city hall (some of whom also were present regarding the reappointment of Alton Police Chief Jason "Jake" Simmons), supporters and opponents of the tattoo issue lined the walls, packed the aisles and filled the main lobby, waiting to hear the council's decision.
Loud cheers greeted the positive decision once Walker said "aye."
Hinkle, who was present at the meeting, now will request a special use permit from the plan commission.
What local businesses have to say
Business owners and downtown area leaders have been speaking out regarding Grand Piasa Body Art’s request to move downtown.
During the May 11 City Council Committee of the Whole meeting, speakers addressed the council regarding its vote Wednesday whether to go against the Alton Plan Commission’s recommendation of denial for the text amendment allowing the body art shop to open at 560 E. Broadway.
The issue has turned into a tug-of-war between members of the community and some commission members who believe a tattoo shop would inhibit future plans for a high-end art district in that area, while others support what they see as a wise business decision in a struggling area.
Here is what owners and organization representatives, speaking as residents, had to say at the meeting, which was attended by a standing-room-only crowd:
Felicia Breen, co-owner of Mississippi Mud Pottery — “We need activity and energy along our Broadway … we need this business to help fill vacancies on Broadway. We need to look beyond our personal bias and look to our community, as well as visitors to the region, and give them more reasons to be drawn to return. While I don’t see this as an issue with Mr. Hinkle’s shop, issues regarding noise, signs, loitering and parking are all ordinance issues which can be enforced by the city if needed. My business needs this shop on Broadway.”
James Rogalsky, co-owner of the Old Bakery Beer Company — “(People ask) why I chose to open in Alton. There is a lot of potential here, especially on Broadway. There is really nowhere else in the St. Louis area that has this scenic view of the Clark Bridge and the river.
“Potential is useless if you don’t do anything with it.”
Christine Favilla, Alton — “I am with a nonprofit that is opening up a small business just a few blocks away from the proposed tattoo shop, and we are going to need such a boost in this arts and culinary district. We would love to start having some foot traffic in that area.”
Sara McGibany, Alton Main Street Executive Director — “We are all very satisfied with one high-quality tattoo shop (in that area of Broadway) … we would be thrilled for that shop to be Grand Piasa Body Art.”
Monica Mason, Alton — “Is the building in question better off empty, as it now stands, or housing a local business such as the one that Mr. Hinkle proposes?
“Chris Hinkle represents yet another successful business, something we usually applaud. He wants to purchase and restore one of our empty historic buildings, something we typically celebrate. Chris Hinkle wants to contribute to our local economy, something we should embrace and applaud.
“Let’s support his expansion.”
Jeanie Cousley, owner of JMC Design — “It would be a shame to not support and welcome someone who is willing to purchase a building and improve a façade who has a track record with a successful business.”
Drew Mader, Alton — “Here we have a proven business, operating within Alton city limits for over seven years, wanting to move to an area of downtown that currently houses too many empty and decaying buildings.”
No one at the meeting spoke against the shop’s relocation.
On April 28, the Alton Plan Commission voted not to recommend a zoning change, which would allow Grand Piasa Body Art, currently located at 3094 Homer Adams Parkway, to relocate to East Broadway, by a vote of 4 to 6. Hinkle wishes to move his business to increase foot traffic and expand the business to include an art supply shop.
Previously, those opposing the move included Dee Kilgo and Orlando (Dit) Panfile and Jeannine Kelly, president of DanMar Enterprises Inc., which owns several buildings in Alton, including part of the 600 block of East Broadway across the street, who all addressed the plan commission with their concerns.
“If the first thing you see when you enter Alton is a tattoo parlor, it will give a different impression of Alton,” Panfile said. “(To say) tattooing is art is a bit of a stretch.”
“The timing of this is unfortunate,” Kilgo said. “Many people who might want to invest in something more high-end would be discouraged by the notion of a tattoo parlor. Tattooing is not fine arts; it is popular culture.”
Kelly is renovating the buildings at 601 to 611 East Broadway (including the former site of Alton Pawn Shop) with plans to open a breakfast and coffee shop and space for artists to create and showcase their artwork. She says she has nothing against Hinkle’s business, but worries about the possibility of a nearby tattoo shop discouraging possible investors and business owners.
She says a potential renter backed out when they discovered a tattoo shop was looking to locate nearby.
“There are a lot of things happening in the downtown district; those deals are not finalized yet,” Kelly said. “I am not yet at liberty to say what those deals are.
With a recommendation of denial by the Alton Plan Commission, the issue went before the Alton City Council on Wednesday, requiring a positive vote by at least five council members. With a vote of 4-3, Walker cast the deciding vote.
With the positive vote, the issue will return to the Plan Commission for a special-use permit request.
The building in question is in a C-4 district, which does not allow tattoo shops and body art establishments. The permit in question would stay with the building, not the business, if Hinkle’s shop moves or closes.