Liquor license proposals aim to help downtowns

TRAVERSE CITY – Two bills moving through the Michigan legislature would create more liquor licenses for downtown centers around the state, if the development districts prove they have at least a 25 percent growth in investments.

The bills sponsored by Sen. Jason Allen (R-Traverse City) and Gilda Jacobs (D-Huntington Woods) would revise the state liquor control code of 1998. The new licenses would be in addition to existing resort and quota permits.

"Some cities are having trouble getting the liquor licenses they need for restaurants they want to bring in," said Allen. "We want to make sure we get enough tools to the downtowns that are looking to redevelop themselves."

Allen's bill stipulates that the Michigan Liquor Control Commission not issue licenses unless local units of government agree with a local development authority in approving the application.

Jacobs' bill states that local development authorities can approve an unlimited amount of liquor licenses in the districts if total investments-industrial, commercial, manufacturing and residential-exceed 25 percent of past investments over a three-year period.

The bill does have its detractors, however.

The Michigan Licensed Beverage Association argues the legislation would be unfair to current licensees and locally- owned establishments.

Martin Van Valkenburg, director of governmental affairs at MLBA, said the new licenses would be sold for $600, undercutting those who paid $50,000 to buy licenses.

But Jeremy Hendges, Sen. Allen's legislative assistant, said the $600 is for the filing fee only. The licenses will actually cost $20,000.

"We want to keep it as fair as possible," said Hendges. "This is a new kind of liquor license that is based on economic development. This new license is non-transferable. Once it is awarded to the establishment, it can't go anywhere else. It has to stay where it is, in the city."

Hendges said there is "no magic number" in mind with the new licenses.

Gary Kosch, former owner of Hockey Heroes in Traverse City and now developing a new restaurant in Gaylord's downtown area plus other projects in Elk Rapids and Petoskey, favors the new bills.

"I believe downtowns have many unique qualities and opportunities," he said. "Restaurants are boutique-type businesses that draw good retail traffic. This bill is much in line with the thought of growing retail traffic."

The bills have passed through the Michigan Senate and are in the Michigan House of Representatives.

"They have a lot of support on both sides-this is a bi-partisan bill," said Hendges. "One of the complaints we hear is the challenge of bringing in entertainment to downtown areas and then not having a liquor license available. This addresses that need. We think this will help downtown areas around the state." BN