PROVO, Utah — People who want to see breweries for the first time in Provo are one step closer to getting their wish.
A referendum that would have left the issue up to voters has failed to get enough signatures, but now sponsors are asking for a recount.
There are currently two bars within city limits that are allowed to serve beer and hard alcohol, but the city has zero breweries.
Earlier this year, members of the Provo City Council voted 4-3 in favor of allowing up to five breweries.
Kim Santiago, a former city council member who has been leading the effort to gather signatures on the petition, said she believes the will of the people would be very different than the decision made by the Provo City Council.
“I think they’d vote it down handily,” Santiago said. “I’ve traveled across the world. Provo is unique, and we should keep it that way.”
City Recorder Amanda Ercanbrack confirmed the petition was short by 138 signatures.
“A lot of the investigation work that we need to do from now until then looks at some additional materials we’ve received from the sponsors,” said Nicole Martin, a spokesperson for the city.
Rozan Mitchell, the Utah County elections director, said her office will be assisting in the recount.
“I’ve been in elections for 22 years. I’ve never been involved in a recount on a petition before,” Mitchell said. “They’re likely to still fall short.”
Strap Tank Brewery, one of the only breweries in Utah County, said they have been excited about the possibility of adding a location in Provo. The business currently has one location in Lehi and another location in Springville.
“It’s pretty nice that we don’t have anybody to compete with, but at the same time we’re a little lonely,” said Derik DeBoard, the head brewer at Strap Tank Lehi. “Some people are really against drinking and other people are really for it. You know, it’s much different down here.”
Santiago said she is concerned that breweries are more likely than bars to target young people in Provo. She also said she has concerns about a brewery’s potential impact on the city’s water and sewer system.
“A lot of our patrons are from Provo,” said Jason Godwin, the general manager of Strap Tank Lehi. “I’ve seen some people with the BYU shirts.”
“Me personally, I’ve seen some BYU stickers and stuff out in the parking lot. Obviously BYU supporters are coming here,” DeBoard said. “Who knows if they’re getting food or if they’re drinking.”
Although some people in Utah County view drinking as a danger, DeBoard said the brewing industry saved his life.
“I was diagnosed with PTSD when I got out of the military – numerous deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq,” DeBoard said. “I started brewing. It gave me a hobby, and I turned it into a career.”
Santiago said it was difficult to gather signatures in the middle of a pandemic, but she does not believe the referendum will receive any leniency if the signatures again fall short.
Gov. Gary Herbert signed an executive order earlier this year that allows signatures to be gathered electronically due to COVID-19.
“Unfortunately this came for the sponsors at a difficult time – at a time where you couldn’t really follow the traditional (methods of gathering signatures),” Mitchell said. “But they were very fortunate that they could gather signatures electronically… It sounds like it might be more difficult, but actually you come out of it with a higher (signature) validity rate.”
Santiago said there is a possibility sponsors could go to a judge if the results of the recount do not provide a big enough change to overcome the 138-signature deficit.
That decision has not yet been made, she said. One step at a time.
The recount will take place at Provo City Hall on Wednesday, July 29 at 10 a.m. Brewery employees indicated they will be following the results closely.
“Right now we’re just waiting for everyone else to make up their mind,” Godwin said. “If we can (expand), we will. It’s always been an idea of ours.”