Downtown business owner sees alley entrances as boon to business

Sunday, October 14, 2007 | 4:31 p.m. CDT; updated 2:44 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Alleys. By most people’s definition, they’re where you chuck out the trash, make deliveries or find a shortcut through downtown.

But one downtown property owner hopes to help alleys reach their full potential by creating an alley restaurant storefront.

John Ott, who owns multiple downtown properties, said he has noticed that the alley that runs east and west between Ninth and Tenth streets south of Broadway already is used for foot traffic.

“So to have different retail and restaurant offerings along those just makes a lot of sense,” he said.

Ott said it’s also a logical use of space, especially in the many downtown buildings that are 150 feet deep but only 20 feet wide.

“So what you find is the back of those stores are not used very efficiently very often, and because of that, people aren’t willing to pay much for that back space,” he said.

The space would be much more valuable if it were accessible, Ott said, noting that Europe has had alley storefronts for centuries and that the trend has come to the United States over the past few decades.

Ott hopes to put a restaurant in the one alley storefront that is now under way in the building at 906 E. Broadway. The space is about 5,000 square feet, including an outdoor patio.

“It is very contemporary, and just a fun space,” Ott said.

The construction permit for the building is pending because the alley lacks a name and, therefore, an official address. That means the city would be unable to dispatch emergency services to the location if necessary.

City Manager Bill Watkins said there are other factors to consider when discussing alley storefronts.

“I think it has a lot of unintended consequences that the council should be aware of,” Watkins said. “There are a lot of obstructions in the alleys,” such as Dumpsters and trash compactors. “There are a lot of alleys where the utilities are buried, and we’ll need to get in there for maintenance. My concern is this is the only area for other businesses to receive deliveries.”

The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing Monday on a proposal to name downtown alleys. Originally, five alley names were proposed, but Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade suggested naming each block of each alley running east and west through downtown instead of having one continuous name.

Ott said he would prefer five alley names and has suggested “Pucketts” as the name for the alley where he wants to put his restaurant.

Ott has been working on excavating his alley site, but he won’t be able to move forward until he gets a construction permit.

“A lot of things are awaiting inspection, so we are going to have to come to a stop soon if that alley isn’t named,” Ott said. If the permit is received in the near future and a tenant is found in a timely manner, Ott expects the business to be up and running toward the end of winter or early spring.

As the alleys have gained attention, building owners and merchants have been cleaning them up.

“I think it is a natural thing to occur. I think as we clean the storefronts, the alley will be cleaned up, and it is already happening,” Ott said.

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