Rafters gets rooftop deck

Rafters Food and Spirits owner Larry Cramer’s journey for approval of a rooftop deck at his bar ended successfully at City Hall Tuesday night.

The city council unanimously approved Cramer’s request after Cramer went through five months of multiple meetings with the city Planning Commission, Heritage Preservation Committee and public safety departments, approval of a special use permit for the deck and having that decision appealed to the City Council for a public hearing Tuesday.

Council approval of Cramer’s special use permit came after Ward 1 Councilman Doug Menikheim appealed the Planning Commission’s approval of the permit in July, sending issue to a public hearing before the council.

“I appealed this decision because bad things can occur as a result of a rooftop venue and because I believe that this decision needs to rest on the shoulders of the City Council and not a commission. We delegate responsibility for all decisions, we can’t delegate accountability and that is why we need to make this decision as a council,” Menikheim said.

Many people spoke on behalf of Cramer at the hearing, saying that this rooftop deck is a good thing because it brings something new to the city and allowing rooftop is a large draw for people in the Twin Cities. Most speakers said Cramer did everything that the various commissions requested and had already put time and money into the project.

Menikheim said he had heard new information in July that he felt was important. That information from Cramer concerned changing Rafters culture and making the eatery known for its dining instead of its past rowdy reputation.

“Rafters past reputation is completely different from our business plan entirely,” Cramer said. “We’re trying to make it a good locals place, turn it into the ‘Cheers’ of Stillwater where local people go to meet up and new people can meet other people in the community.”

Cramer said during his presentation that the deck would seat 48, not have a physical bar, will have a minimum cost to eat there and closes at 10 p.m. Another condition was added to the 19 existing conditions Tuesday making sure that the business is split 60/40 with food being on the higher end.

Cramer said that was already the case at his establishment. He added that the project costs $250,000 to finish and get running. He noted that that the deck will save his business and adds 15 to 20 seasonal jobs.

“We’re hoping that this rooftop deck will not only save our establishment but also work for a greater good in the downtown area,” he said. “The downtown area has been in a form of slow death since 2008, 2009 and we’ve seen a drop off in the numbers coming to our establishment. We also have a gem of a valley and this deck will allow a gorgeous view of it.”

Cramer said during the hearing that at points in the permit process he felt like the city was more of a business partner telling him what he could and could not do, but he understood the city’s position and believes that the city can feel confident in their process.

Mayor Ken Harycki addressed Cramer’s concerns.

I’m not interested in having the city micromanaging businesses and I think that we need to figure out some way to streamline the process in the future,” he said.