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Downtown Hooters continues to stir debate: Liquor license last hurdle for both sides

A liquor license is one of the last things a Hooters restaurant needs to move forward with plans to open a location in downtown Fort Worth, but a committee of nearby residents is determined to stop the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission (TABC) from granting one.

Representatives of Hooters and the Downtown Fort Worth Neighborhood Committee have until Sept. 14 to submit arguments for or against the liquor license.

The decision will then be in the hands of an administrative law judge, who will have 60 days to approve or deny the license. After that, appeals can still be made.

But even if a liquor license is not granted, Hooters could still operate because it meets city codes – it just couldn’t serve alcohol, said Dee Kelly Jr., the attorney representing the neighborhood group.

Claudia Levitas, chief legal officer and general counsel at Hooters, said that not having the ability to serve alcohol isn’t ideal but that Hooters is open to the possibility.

“It’s an option,” she said. “It’s certainly not a desired option, but we’re leaving our options open at this point.”

The battle over Hooters began in January when the case appeared on the agenda of the Downtown Design Review Board (DDRB), the city’s governing body that approves building designs in downtown Fort Worth.

Henry Borbolla, who lives in the Sundance West apartments across the street from the proposed Hooters location at 150 Throckmorton St., was a member of the design review board at the time. He said he had heard rumors that the restaurant was coming as the building had a liquor permit notice posted on the window, under the name TW Restaurant Holder LLC. The case’s appearance on the design review board’s agenda confirmed Borbolla’s notions.

“We never thought it was a good idea to put it across the street from our residence,” he said. The restaurant would occupy part of the former Tandy Center complex.

At the design review board meeting, nearby residents expressed concerns about the restaurant moving in, particularly the bright orange signage displaying the name “Hooters,” a slang term for women’s breasts.

Since the review board only has authority over the look of a development and not the development itself, Borbolla voted to approve the Hooters, including the design of the patio and signage among other elements.

“Our purview is very strict, so in terms of the actual design of the entire facility including the patio, although I may not have been for it personally, I had to vote in the affirmative as all those guidelines were met,” he said.

Borbolla’s term on the design review board has since ended. Now he is among the residents opposing the restaurant, submitting a protest and speaking against Hooters at the TABC hearing in August.

“This is where we live, where we spend all our time,” he said. “I think we deserve the same respect or the same consideration in being able to enjoy our neighborhood the way we like it.”

Borbolla said the west side of the block, which faces Throckmorton Street, has more of a “residential feel;” the east side facing Houston Street, where establishments such as Reata and Four Day Weekend are located, is where most of the commercial activity is concentrated.

Hooters just wouldn’t fit in with the character of the neighborhood, he said.

“We don’t feel that a restaurant of that nature fits in on the residential side of downtown,” he said. “I don’t care that that establishment is coming downtown. I prefer that it not be across the street from my building.”

Either way, Hooters can still operate since it complies with the city’s zoning regulations and has the design review board’s approval for the design. Approval of the liquor license is the one thing standing in the way, Levitas said.

“We had hoped to have been under construction already,” she said. “This has just delayed the process by a few months.”

Levitas said it’s rare for a Hooters development to face so much protest, and she believes the issue is not necessarily the short shorts and low-cut tank tops worn by Hooters’ waitresses, but the name “Hooters,” which could be interpreted as a reference to women’s chests.

“There’s a band called The Hooters,” she said. “I’m sure that has nothing to do with the female chest obviously, right? That has to do with singing. The whole point is it’s a double entendre. It can be interpreted in different ways.”

She said that compared with other downtown establishments such as Ojos Locos or nearby nightclubs, Hooters waitresses’ attire is relatively modest, consisting of shorts, tank tops and pantyhose as opposed to the midriff shirts they wore in the past.

“The only thing that’s exposed is the arms and a portion of the chest,” she said. “It’s really nothing more than you would see them walking down the street. I really don’t understand at all what the commotion is.”

But Borbolla said his issue is not with Hooters itself – he’s happy to help Hooters find a different location downtown. He just doesn’t like the idea of having a location so close to a residence.

“Everything that a Hooters means, if it is allowed to open, will be under very close scrutiny,” he said. “I just think it will be more successful elsewhere.”

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