For months, the city of Birmingham has been wrestling with the owners of the Emagine Palladium Theater over their decision to close their adjacent restaurant in the Palladium Building in downtown Birmingham, Ironwood Grill, and reopen it as Four Story Burger, which occurred in late 2016. It has reach such a low point that city commissioners are poised to not only amend the special land use permit allowing it to operate, but to terminate it as well – in essence terminating their ability to sell alcohol on the premises.
To some, it may seem like a petty dispute. Here is a successful entertainment venture, the Emagine Theaters, which opened in November 2015 after A.F. Jonna Development Company purchased the 140,000 square foot Palladium Building and completely renovated it – which just wants a restaurant that succeeds. What had previously been 12 movie theaters was modified into five luxury theaters on a newly created fourth floor, and Jonna entered into a lease with Emagine Entertainment of Troy, owned by Paul Glantz, to operate the five-screen theater. Glantz also partnered with Jon Goldstein, owner of Cloud Nine Theater Partners, in the venture. They also opened a restaurant on the fourth floor, Ironwood Grill, a sports bar-type venue, which didn’t take off.
And therein lies the problem that Glantz, Goldstein, and their company find themselves in with Birmingham city commissioners. In order to operate with a liquor license in Birmingham, any and all businesses must apply and receive a special land use permit (SLUP). Birmingham initiated this procedure in past years as a remedy to a loss of control over liquor license holders when the state liquor control commission undermined local input with changes to rules for the state. As part of the SLUP, if there are any changes to a restaurant, including the name of a restaurant and/or the type of food being served, the special land use permit must be approved by the city commission. That means completed paperwork must be submitted in the appropriate fashion, they have to go to the planning department, perhaps engineering, police and other departments, then the planning board, and receive approvals before heading for final approval before the city commission.
In the case of Emagine Palladium/Ironwood Grill – now operating as Four Story Burger – none of this occurred. Their executive chef is on TV and social media promoting it but they’re not approved to operate it. Glantz and Goldstein have repeatedly failed to show up in front of commissioners, further fanning the flame.
Planning director Jana Ecker has stated at commission meetings that she had informed the owners as far back as last September or October they would have to go through this process in order to change the dining part of their establishment. Instead, appearing to flout the city’s laws, they closed Ironwood Grill in November, renovated and reopened in December as Four Story Burger.
In February 2017, during the city commission’s annual liquor license renewal, commissioners took ownership to the mats, calling them to a public hearing before renewing their state liquor license at the last minute. Goldstein stated he had never been in Birmingham, didn’t know where city hall was, and was unaware there was a need for special land use permits. However, he has complied with similar special land use permits for changes at his Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, so his cry rang hollow. He also threw noted restaurant designers Ron & Roman, who have designed many a Birmingham dining establishment, under the bus, saying he assumed they would have applied for all necessary permits for him.
At an April commission meeting to review the special land use permit, commissioners postponed a review and decision until Glantz or Goldstein can attend, despite their attorney and Goldstein’s wife being in attendance. While we support enforcement of the special land use permit ordinance, we disagree with commissioners on that account – it is sufficient, and often typical, for legal representatives to attend instead of ownership. We understand the irritation of having a successful business owner seemingly disregard municipal authority. But being punitive only diminishes the authority the commission actually wields on this importance compliance issue.