Menu

New vote opens door for video cafes in Palos Hills

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

From “game over” to likely “game on,” so goes the saga of video gaming cafés in Palos Hills.

A little more than a month after city officials voted 5-4 against creating a new classification in the liquor ordinance for the gaming cafés, a revote was taken at the request of Ald. Dawn Nowak (5th) during the meeting on Nov. 5.

This time a different result ensued as Mayor Gerald Bennett broke a 5-5 tie and directed City Attorney George Pappas to draft an ordinance creating the special classification.

The council is expected to vote at the meeting on Nov. 19 to approve licenses for Stella’s to open at 111th Street and Southwest Highway and Durbin’s for a location in the strip mall in the 10100 block of Roberts Road. Representatives of both businesses told city officials at a meeting in September they had interest in opening a video game café in Palos Hills.

The reason the vote boiled down to Bennett was the presence of Ald. Joe Marrotta (4th). A deputy sheriff for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Marrotta said he planned on attending the meeting on Oct. 1, but was unable because he was called into court.

“I had all intentions of being at that meeting,” Marrotta said. “I have a full-time job. Some of you don’t, you are retired. I had no choice but to attend a trial for my full-time job.”

Marrotta, along with aldermen Nowak, Ricky Moore (4th), Mike Lebarre (3rd) and Pauline Stratton (2nd), voted in favor of the special classification. Aldermen Marty Kleefisch (1st), Joan Knox (1st), Mark Brachman (2nd), A.J. Pasek (3rd) and Mary Ann Schultz (5th) voted against.

Kleefisch was particularly vocal in his displeasure that a revote occurred. He noted that even though Marrotta was absent a quorum was still in place on Oct. 1.

“Usually when a quorum votes for or against something that vote stands unless there is a significant change in the proposal,” Kleefisch said. “I don’t see a significant change.

“The alderman that was not here had the ability to call in and for whatever reason he chose not to do that. If you go ahead with this (revote) you are setting a dangerous precedent for revoting things that the losing side does not like.”

Bennett told Kleefisch the council has revoted on things in the past.

“I don’t think this would be precedent-setting at all,” he said. “I don’t think the intention of whatever takes place here on the vote is to keep voting something in and out over a period of time, especially with the full city council present.”    

Nowak said after the meeting that she did not know Marrotta was going to be absent on Oct. 1 or else she would have asked the council to table the vote to a later meeting.

“I’m a new alderman, I was just inducted in May,” she said. “I didn’t know about calling in votes so I was instructed after the meeting that I should have waited until a full city council.

“I think this is fairest way to do it,” she said of taking the vote with all 10 aldermen present.

Any business interested in a video game café license would need to spend $1,800 annually on the license and receive approval from the council. Palos Hills officials have previously said they only intend on issuing a handful of licenses as to not oversaturate the market.

Although no one from Stella’s or Durbin’s was present last week, Nowak said both businesses would still be interested in operating a video gaming café if the council were to create the special classification.

While Palos Hills already allows video gaming terminals in restaurants, the cafés would differ because their menu would consist of lighter options like chicken wings as opposed to a full menu. The cafés would also offer alcoholic drinks.

Nowak was uncertain how much revenue the cafés would generate for Palos Hills, but she believed they would be a welcome addition to a city that at last count had 92 vacant storefronts.

In other news, Bennett and the board paid tribute to building commissioner Gene Nelson, who died on Oct. 29 at age 79. Nelson had two stints with Palos Hills totaling more than 20 years of service, Bennett said.

“I don’t think I need to explain to anybody up here his devotion to that job,” Bennett said. “He loved that job and he loved the City of Palos Hills.

“Gene was always a kind-hearted person and he always did what he could to help people along.”

Bennett then appointed longtime plan commission member and architect Gene Newman to the building commissioner position. The mayor said Nelson actually came to him and recommended Newman for the job approximately a month ago.

“Gene (Newman’s) service to the city on that plan commission has been outstanding,” Bennett said. “We welcome Gene on board as our building commissioner.”