As Scottsdale considers a new license agreement with Rockbar for a patio, locals and business owners have called on the city to nix the deal over concerns that the Craftsman Court bar is violating its spirit.
Scottsdale has had a license agreement for the property owner since 2004 that allows Rockbar to operate a dining patio on city-owned outdoor space in an alley adjacent to the bar.
According to the agreement, “Activating public spaces through outdoor dining patios and similar amenities increases the attractiveness of downtown to tourists and otherwise advances the prosperity of downtown and the broader community.”
The current deal is set to expire in January and the City Council will consider approving a new one Dec. 11.
The city has around 25 similar outdoor dining licenses in the downtown area, said Public Works Executive Director Dan Worth.
Some residents and local property owners do not believe the agreement with Rockbar will meet the city’s stated goal of increasing the area’s attractiveness.
Frederika Ranucci, who has owned property in Craftsman Court for nearly 30 years, said the area is primarily made up of high-end retailers and service-oriented businesses.
“If the patio is for drinking and smoking, that does not contribute to the environment,” she said. “If the patio itself is not being used for dining, then it shouldn’t be allowed, even if there is a kitchen.”
Complaints center on what constitutes a “dining patio.” Under the agreement, Rockbar must operate as a restaurant with a “full service kitchen” on site that prepares food, “not just heating and warming” pre-prepared food.
The agreement requires Rockbar to serve 10 entrees.
Resident Sandy Schenkat argued that Rockbar’s kitchen is not full service and that the patio operates as a drinking and smoking, not a dining, area.
“It’s a farce,” she said. “There is no kitchen; just a microwave.”
Photos on file with the city show a microwave, countertops, a deli-style meat slicer and a conveyor roaster/broiler.
In a statement sent to the Progress, Coalition of Greater Scottsdale Chair Sonnie Kirtley echoed Schenkat’s concerns, and said that “only basic bar finger food is served and not ten distinct entrees that are cooked.”
Rockbar’s current menu includes 14 items, including four sub sandwiches, three pizzas, flatbread and an array of finger foods like chicken wings, potato skins and pretzel bites.
“There is no full-service restaurant, sit-down experience,” Kirtley’s statement read.
Part of the issue is a lack of clarity in the city’s guidelines.
For instance, while the city requires that the establishment offers 10 entrees, it does not define what constitutes an entrée and what is merely an appetizer.
The guidelines also do not define what constitutes a “full service kitchen” beyond stating that it cannot simply warm or heat up food.
Councilmember Guy Phillips acknowledged as much when he supported renewing the old license agreement with Rockbar in 2016.
“That’s not the applicant’s fault that we don’t specify what constitutes a kitchen,” Phillips said at a council meeting in 2016.
Many of those complaining about the potential new agreement also came out against the renewal in 2016.
At the time, the property owner argued that he had met all necessary requirements.
Court Rich of Rose Law Group, who represented property owner John Eby, said that prior to 2016, the agreement did not include the kitchen requirement but that as soon as the city made its concerns known, Eby worked to ensure that his tenant, Rockbar, complied with the new kitchen requirement.
Detractors have argued that the city terminated similar licenses from businesses in the past in the area, including Dos Gringos. The new agreement would allow the city to cancel the agreement without cause.
Worth said that previous agreement cancellations were under different circumstances.
A city presentation stated that Rockbar has had no code violations in the past 12 months and no operational violations from police in the past 24 months.
Despite the ambiguity in the city’s rules, local property owners and business operators have taken issue with the effect the patio – and Rockbar as a whole – has had on the Craftsman Court area.
“Our concern is that the outdoor dining patios are meant to serve a very explicit purpose as stated by the city, which is to energize and activate neighborhoods. That is sensible to me,” said Ranucci.
“If the bar is using the patio simply as extension of bar operation, if it is drinking and smoking primarily, this undermines the objective of the license as stated by the city,” she said.
“It doesn’t add value to the area,” said Steve Johnson, who owns Atelier in Craftsman Court, referencing the patio.
Detractors also argued that the length of the agreement – 15 years – is too long and that amount that the property owner will pay for the space is below market value.
The annual use fee attached to the pending agreement is $3,105, with annual escalations based on the consumer price index.
Worth, the public works executive director, said the city used a market rate assessment to determine the value of the 419-square-foot parcel.
Those against the agreement also argued that campaign contributions also unduly influenced past council decisions and could affect the vote on Monday.
Of the five Councilmembers that voted to approve the license agreement in 2016, four – Mayor Jim Lane and Councilmembers Suzanne Klapp, Virginia Korte and Linda Milhaven – received contributions from parties with interests in the bar and property.
City records show that Eby, the property owner, donated $500 to Milhaven’s recent campaign and also contributed $1,000 to the campaigns of Klapp and Korte prior to the 2016 election.
Eby also donated $2,000 to Lane’s 2016 mayoral campaign.
Rockbar owner Alex Mundy contributed $300 to Lane’s 2016 campaign and made $400 in in-kind contributions to Milhaven’s 2018 campaign.