HURRICANE – Barista’s, also known as El Trovatore, and its owner, Stephen Ward, were in the spotlight again at the Hurricane City Council meeting Thursday night.
Ward came with his attorney, Eric Carson, of Fisher and Hunter Law in St. George, seeking local consent for a full-service liquor license for his restaurant, which has been in business since 2009. The council allowed the request, originally made during its March 5 meeting, to be reconsidered.
Carson opened by thanking the council for the reconsideration and was immediately met with Councilman Darin Larson asking why the restaurant’s request should be reconsidered, when it was turned down two months before.
Licensure, itself, falls under the purview of the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control, but includes provisions for local consent – thus the proprietor’s request for the council’s reconsideration.
Carson said Ward has “quite a bit of character” and self-promotes well, for better or for worse, and may be a minority in small-town conservative Utah. He is a “passionate, even extreme individual” who is trying to compete with other restaurants with a full liquor license. Ward is turning over a new leaf, has hired a new manager for the restaurant, his brother-in-law, and is not in the restaurant as often because he is spending much of his time in his new art studio, Carson said by way of explanation.
Hear parts of the dialogue, click the play arrow above
At this point, Ward rose to speak and said he is bored with the restaurant.
“It’s not my thing anymore,” he said. “I’m kind of stepping out of the picture.”
When asked if he’d have a drink list by City Councilwoman Pam Humphries, Ward said he would not have anything too extravagant, explaining that his prices are a deterrent to drink a lot.
“We don’t want to have a bar scene,” he said.
City Attorney Fay Reber asked if the city could get it in writing that Ward is turning over operations to his brother-in-law and will have much less of a presence in the restaurant. Reber said that the police department has received 47 calls over the last few years relating to things going on at Barista’s, and asked when Ward had turned over a new leaf.
Ward said he gets calmer every year.
“Let’s say I’ve grown a heart finally,” he said.
Larson chimed in at this point, saying that some of those calls to police came from Ward himself trying to defuse potentially volatile situations.
“We’ve seen how you’ve been in the last month,” Larson told Ward. “There’s no new leaf that I see. It’s very convenient.”
At this, Carson said he wouldn’t represent Ward if Ward didn’t take his counsel.
Councilman Darin Thomas said he took issue with Ward’s past negative remarks to the City Council, which he called slander, and that he has a hard time believing Ward was asking the council to sign off on something in a community that Ward dislikes.
Ward said with tone of retort that his comments about so-called “burrito-eating punks” were directed towards the “haters.”
Thomas answered and said Ward’s business does not fit the community.
Councilwoman Ethelyn Humphries agreed; she said Carson and Ward just want to get the full-service liquor license and are not taking the best interest of the community’s public health and safety to mind. Council members also expressed their concern of its close proximity to Hurricane High School.
Carson said that moving forward with a new manager and Ward as less of a participant in day-to-day operations would deter concerns and that every effort would be made to keep the premises free of violations.
Mayor John Bramall interjected, taking a positive turn. Bramall gave his condolences to Ward on the recent passing of Ward’s mother and complimented Ward on the good things he has heard about Barista’s in the last month.
Ward then chronicled the psychological abuse he has taken over the last seven years, but said he has respect for the council.
“I like you guys,” he said.
Later, Thomas suggested that the council deny the license for now but encourage Ward and Carson to reapply in six months. With the passage of time, Thomas said, the council would have some data to see if Ward’s “new leaf” is for real. Granting the license at this point would be premature, he said.
“I don’t think six months is long enough,” Pam Humphries added.
Bramall said the location across from the high school could be a deal breaker, but said he liked the “better attitude tonight.”
After that, the discussion went downhill.
Ward said he approached the council two and a half years ago, got “beat up,” but was miraculously granted a limited alcohol license, and then threatened to take the matter to federal court.
Thomas, visibly irritated and raising his voice, called Ward out on his threat.
Carson apologized for his client’s remarks, assuring the council he’s confident Ward and his brother-in-law could turn the restaurant around.
Bramall mentioned again that the city could give Ward a good faith estimate for six months and Reber agreed, but then Thomas closed that door, making a motion that the council deny the license without reconsidering in six months because the business does not fit the locale nor does its management style. Thomas’s motion unanimously passed, denying Ward the full-service license.
New DATC campus
Kelle Stephens, president of Dixie Applied Technology College, came to the council seeking the city’s support for a new 177,000-square-foot campus in the Tonaquint Center. She said the Utah State Legislature appropriated $31.9 million for the new campus, but DXATC needs to come up with $13 million itself to get it off the ground.
The council voiced its support of the program, but admitted it could not commit to helping fund the program. Pam Humphries said the city needs to focus on balancing its budget so it can pay its own employees.
Stephens thanked the council for its consideration and said she’s confident that they’ll get creative and find a way to fill the needed shortfall, through a bond or some other avenue.
City Beautification Committee Chairman Richard Black presented to the city about the establishment of Hurricane Art in the Park Foundation, whose primary role would be to head fundraising for bronze sculptures to place in public areas within the city.
One he suggested specifically was a canal rider to go along the proposed Hurricane Canal replica to be constructed as part of the Historic Hurricane Wayside, located at approximately 200 East State Street.
Black said a full-size bronze horse would cost $70,000 and one with a rider would be double that.
Bramall said one of the foundations options could be to lease the art – a 10-year lease at 10 percent of the cost – even suggesting an alteration of the rebel statue recently removed from Dixie State University’s campus as an option.
Black also suggested a statue next to the city’s first house, which sits near Wells Fargo Bank, one in front of the Fine Arts Building and one north of the community center.
The City Council liked the idea of the art, but Pam Humphries said the foundation needs to find all the funding for the first one on its own.
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