Grand Piasa Body Art owner Chris Hinkle wants to relocate his business from Homer Adams Parkway to East Broadway.
ALTON — Two separate groups with very different visions on what a section of Broadway should become are in a tug of war … with a tattoo and body art shop caught in the middle.
On Tuesday, the Alton Plan Commission voted 4 to 6 not to recommend a zoning change, which would allow Grand Piasa Body Art, currently located at 3094 Homer Adams Parkway, to relocate to 560 East Broadway.
“I believe this is due to a lack of education about who we are and what we do,” owner Chris Hinkle said at his shop following the vote.
The 39-year-old owner’s plan is to purchase the buildings that stretch from 556 to 560 East Broadway. Biker Brothers Leather, currently located at 556 East Broadway, would remain, while 560 East Broadway would be the new home of Grand Piasa Body Art.
558 East Broadway (currently the home of Batog Hardwood Floors) would become an art supply store (an extension of Hinkle’s current business). Renovations on the exterior of the building would begin as soon as the sale was complete, Hinkle said. Apartments on the second floor currently are occupied by residents.
With a recommendation of denial by the Alton Plan Commission, the issue now goes before the Alton City Council on May 13 and would require a positive vote by at least five council members. If the council overturns the decision by the commission, the commission would then have to determine if it would recommend a special use permit for Hinkle’s business.
But the issue stretches beyond just the tattoo shop. Supporters for the move, including Alton Main Street Executive Director Sara McGibany and JMC Design Gallery owner Jeanie Cousley, say the move would bring a younger demographic to an area of Broadway that has the potential to thrive.
Both sides filled the Alton City Council chambers on Tuesday to make their voices heard.
“We would appreciate a fresh look at this business and what it can bring to Broadway,” McGibany said. “We are trying to frame that part of Broadway as an arts district; body art is a big part of that and a big part of the millennial culture, a group we supposedly are actively trying to recruit and bring to downtown Alton.”
“You have someone who wants to purchase a building, fix up a building, and bring business to Alton,” Cousley added. “If he is operating within standards within his industry … (this could) be a shot in the arm on getting the arts to this end of Broadway.”
Elizabeth Cardenas, who owns the building in question along with her husband, Ernest, said she was excited about the possibility of Hinkle purchasing the property.
Those opposing the move include Dee Kilgo and Orlando (Dit) Panfile from Jacoby Arts Center 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.
“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.
“I am opposed to opening up the C-4 district to tattoo parlors in general. Once you approve this, that zoning stays with this building. We need to keep the downtown district as is for the time being so we can see how this is going to develop.”
The building in question is in a “C-4 district,” which does not allow tattoo shops and body art establishments. If the commission recommended approval, it could open the door for similar businesses to open in C-4 district areas.
A block away, the area east of Ridge Street (a C-2 district) is zoned to allow tattoo businesses.
“I understand why the decision was made at the time, because at that time the industry as we know it was still in its beginning as far as what it took to become a tattooist,” Hinkle said. “So much has changed since the last time this zoning issue was considered. In this day and age, tattoos and body piercings are much more commonplace and less stigmatized.”
Opinions among the Plan Commission were varied, as well. Commissioner Bill Stoutenborough, who voted against the zoning change, said he did not support the move.
“(Tattooing) has a place where it could be and should be,” Stoutenborough said. “I am opposed to having it in a high visibility area. It does have an effect on a town.”
Commissioner Gary Doerr disagreed.
“What we have here is someone willing to make the financial commitment to move a viable business from one part of the city to here,” Doerr said. “We are not going to open up a tattoo parlor and then have 15 people come down and up tattoo parlors.”
Hinkle said he is missing out on a possible 100 percent increase in business from walk-in customers, based on industry trends.
“By the time my building is visible, you have already passed it,” he said.
“We pride ourselves on being a part of the community,” Cody Buttry-Hinkle, Chris’ wife, added. “We have been heavily involved with groups to bring art back to Alton; that is very important to us. We absolutely adore where we live.”
The commission also raised concerns about unattractive signage (“I want simple signage,” Hinkle said. “I do not want that corner to turn into a spectacle.”) as well as the type of inventory the art supply store would sell (“Paint, canvases and brushes,” Hinkle said.)
A petition in favor of the move, signed by 32 members of the community, was presented to the Plan Commission. An online petition through change.org also garnered 500 votes by Tuesday. City Counselor Jim Schrempf said petitions in zoning hearings are not considered appropriate evidence as the people who sign a petition are not at the hearing to voice their opinion.
Following the meeting, Hinkle returned to his shop on Homer Adams, disappointed but not defeated.
“The ‘no’ vote does not slow my resolve,” he said. “This wasn’t a last-minute decision. I tried to open downtown back in 2008 and was blocked.”
Hinkle, who opened his shop (originally called Gato Negro Tattoo) in 2008, has been in the industry for 13 years. He says he has a 5-star rating with the Madison County Health Department and meets or exceeds all of its requirements. He has four tattoo and body piercing independent contractors as well as one apprentice.
Anyone who wished to speak in favor of or against the relocation of Hinkle’s business may do so at the City Council meeting on May 13. Deadline to request permission to speak will be 5 p.m. on May 13.