Views of St. Croix are on the menu in Stillwater

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 20, 2012 - 7:01 PM

The city has approved rooftop patios for two downtown restaurants.

Rooftop patios, all the rage in entertainment districts in major cities, soon will appear on Main Street in downtown Stillwater.

City approval this month of a patio atop Rafters Food and Spirits comes soon after a similar patio was approved down the block at First National Green Room. Both restaurants wanted patios to allow customers to see the nearby St. Croix River from a higher perspective.

Stillwater, as one of the most popular destination cities in the metro area, has several outdoor patios for warm weather dining. Until May, however, no patios were approved for rooftops.

"It may be unique to Washington County but it certainly isn't unique to the metro area," said Mike Pogge, the city planner. The Planning Commission studied several of the 30 or so business rooftop patios elsewhere in the metro area before granting approval, he said.

Rafters owner Larry Cramer said approval of his proposal didn't come easy.

"Took me four months and 16,000 bucks and I finally got approval with 19 conditions," he said last week.

The rooftop patio, decorated with umbrellas and ornamental lights, will seat 48 customers. No glassware or glass bottles will be allowed on the patio, Pogge said, and a three-foot setback will be required.

The Green Room will have seating for 30 customers on its patio.

Rafters still needs city approval for the patio's structural design, necessary to support weight atop his River Exchange Building, constructed in 1902. "Basically we have to put a whole lot of iron in this place to support a deck that will be above the roof," he said.

Cramer wrote in a letter of intent to the city that he had modified his initial proposal to meet concerns of Marine Leasing, the company that owns the building south of Rafters. A fabric-covered security fence will stand higher on the south side to resolve those concerns, he said.

Design is being handled by Stillwater architect Brian Larson.

Earlier Planning Commission meetings reviewed concerns about noise, safety and fires. Pogge said during the May meeting that city officials often hear complaints from residents on nearby blufftops about patio noise downtown.

Cramer said he hopes to open his rooftop patio by Oct. 1 "but the likelihood of that is probably small."

Both rooftops likely will open next spring, Pogge said. The City Council would vote on the matter only if someone appeals the Planning Commission decision, he said.

"We believe that the proposed dining deck is going to be a wonderful addition in dining experience options for both residents of Stillwater and to the many tourists who will see this as another reason to make Stillwater a destination of choice," Cramer wrote in his proposal.

Although principally a restaurant, Rafters also has a bar, a dance hall and a game room. Cramer said he also rents the building for special events.

"We like to think of ourselves as the Cheers of Stillwater," he said.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles

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