Gerald Bester's meandering path through city government to open his new restaurant in Uptown continued Wednesday with an appearance before the Plan Commission.
Bester needs a conditional-use permit to open his restaurant, "Gerald's," at 1501 Washington Ave. He made a brief appearance before the commission Wednesday and discussed his plans.
Bester, who has already secured a liquor license, intends to open an upscale restaurant with comedy acts on the weekend (Bester used to run a comedy club in Milwaukee and has ties to national comedians). The restaurant will have smokehouse theme that serves specialty meats, turkey, ribs, chicken and fish, along with sandwiches, appetizers and tacos.
He also said he'll work with local corporations to build relationships and hopefully attract people for lunches and dinners.
Bester forcefully denied the restaurant would turn into a hip hop club.
"I'll be a good neighbor in the this city and in the Uptown community," he said. "I'm well-versed about the previous problems in the area. I've done everything I know how to to get the message out that this won’t be that type of an establishment."
"I'm committed to making this part of the solution, not a problem for the city of Racine," he added.
During a public hearing on the conditional-use permit, Richard Kemper said the Uptown business associations supported Bester as long as he installed a full kitchen in the building. Kemper added he had concerns about Gerald's staying open late on the weekends.
"What we don’t need in our neighborhood is a lot of influx late at night," he said.
Lauren Konopka, of the High Riders Motorcycle Club, said the club supported Bester's application for a conditional-use permit.
"This man deserves his chance," she said.
Alderman Michael Shields agreed. He said Bester has made it clear he intends to open a restaurant and the city should give him the opportunity to enact those plans. He argued past incidents in the building are irrelevant to Bester, who had nothing to do with what happened five years ago.
That said, Shields said he also intended to hold Bester accountable to his plans.
"If Mr. Bester fails, believe me, I’ll be one of the first to say he needs to go," Shields said.
Following the public hearing, Plan Commission member Brent Oglesby said he supported Bester's plans. He said he was particularly interested in a restaurant staying open late because most sit-down places in Racine close relatively early.
Commission member Eric Marcus reminded the commission that it was simply voting on whether the restaurant was a good use of the land, not whether the restaurant itself was a good idea. It's a key distinction that factors out reviewing Bester's business plan.
"We’re not (determining) if this is a good restaurant," Marcus said. "(We're determining) if it is a good use of the land."
Bester was also asked about his plans for an outdoor patio on the second story of the building. He said it likely would be used as a smoking area once the state goes smoke free next year. It could also allow him to sell Canadian cigars.
The commission voted to defer action on the conditional-use permit until the Access Corridor Development Review Committee reviews the proposal at its meeting on Aug. 22.