Originally created 09/30/00

Church is opposed to liquor license



A crowd of some 100 Curtis Baptist supporters went home happy Monday after stopping a proposed downtown restaurant's liquor license - at least for now.

Although the Richmond County Commission's Public Services Committee recommended that the city deny the application, Judy Tyler of Augusta will get a second chance at the full commission meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

She attributes the church's opposition to a misunderstanding about the wording of the license application. While it says "dance hall," it doesn't mean "honky-tonk," she said.

Mrs. Tyler, a former member of Curtis Baptist, planned to open Off Broadway Dining and Dance at 1285 Broad St. around mid-October. The site is about a block from the church, 1326 Broad St. That's far enough away from the church, its day care and elementary school to more than satisfy legal requirements, she said.

Rather than a honky-tonk, the garden-themed restaurant would be available for fine dining, large meetings, catering and wedding receptions, she said. "I can't pay that type of lease if I can't serve alcohol."

The building is owned by Osbon Properties.

Augusta's future as a significant tourism destination is at risk unless it develops sophisticated attractions, said Julian Osbon, a downtown developer and president of Augusta Tomorrow. "If the city commission wants to shoot economic development and tourism in the head, this is their chance."

Once a license is granted to run a dance hall or sell liquor on Sundays, then Mrs. Tyler and other proprietors can do as they please, said Dr. Mark Harris, pastor of Curtis Baptist.

The church is not singling her out, he said. "If Sacred Heart (Cultural Center) filed for a liquor license down there tomorrow or if another applies, we will be down there" at the commission.

The nearly 125-year-old congregation expanded its Sunday services in March to accommodate a surge in membership since Dr. Harris took over the pulpit about nine months ago. The 2,000-member church is open virtually night and day.

During the summer, the growing congregation considered moving but voted in August to stay downtown. Curtis believes in the vision of a family-friendly downtown where people would like to eat and shop, but approving "another liquor license is sending the wrong message," Dr. Harris said.

If the Off Broadway dance hall opens and sells liquor on Sundays, then the area's safety would be compromised, he said. "What a tragedy it would be to see someone with a few too many run a stoplight and crash into a family. We don't like to think about those things, but we don't need another liquor license this close to our school and church," Dr. Harris said.

It didn't make sense to him that while Curtis and its neighbor, the Salvation Army on Greene Street, minister to addicts, another bar would open up a block away from the church, he said.

Curtis believes the call in the gospel to be "salt and light," he said. "Sometimes salt burns and hurts. We as a church have to recognize that is why Jesus Christ called us to be his body on this Earth. That is who we intend to be, (but) that will not make us popular."

Mrs. Tyler said she was flabbergasted when Commissioner Bill Kuhlke moved that her application be denied, she said. "I had been told that everything had been a go."

She has no criminal record or history of running a failing business but is now forced to pay an attorney to pursue the application, she said. "I run a legitimate business."

Curtis' argument that the children would be endangered "didn't have anything to do with it. ... It was a political thing," she said.

A license to sell alcohol is a privilege, said city attorney Jim Wall. While there are objective criteria, the commission can still deny an application at its discretion.

If the commissioners deny the application Tuesday, Mrs. Tyler could appeal.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.