Straw poll: Which location do you favor for the Northfield Liquor Store?

muni.jpgAnne Bretts blogged yesterday that the City Council could make a decision on the liquor store location at Monday’s meeting. I don’t see it on the Agendabut regardless, it’s a hot topic.

Listen to our discussion of the issue with Councilor Scott Davis on this week’s podcast, see last week’s blog post on the topic, take the straw poll, and then add your comments.

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40 thoughts on “Straw poll: Which location do you favor for the Northfield Liquor Store?”

  1. City sent out an updated meeting list yesterday, adding the special meeting. It was just a work session, and the addition of a regular meeting on the topic – and a closed session to discuss an purchase offer – means they want the option to act. Pretty scary, given the lack of any promise of more profit, and the total lack of a plan for all the capital spending ideas floating around.

  2. The notice just says there is a closed meeting to discuss making an offer on a new site and an open business meeting to determine where the site is. With a regular business meeting they have the potential to do anything…or nothing.
    I’m with Alex…the city has no more business selling liquor than it does selling hardware.
    If EconoFoods would get a boost from a liquor store, let them build it.
    Sell the liquor store and use the money to fund a real civic project like a library–but only after the city makes a real 10-year capital projects plan.

  3. mmm, a real “10-year capital projects plan” sounds like hard work…..finally…..someone with common sense. Keep it up Anne, I like your comment.

  4. Anne, I told Scott in our podcast that I thought the consultants were remiss in not addressing the potential impact of the “dinner with wine” proposal being discussed at the legislature, should it become law. The Council should insist that they address this in the report before they get paid for it.

  5. I’ve been told to correct my previous statement….”my previous comment may or may not represent the opinions or positions of Peter Waskiw, his wife, children, dog, lizard, turtle or any other living or breathing entity in, under or around him.

  6. Here’s a question: if the ‘wine with dinner” (liquor sales in groceries) legislation goes through………what would be the ramification for Northfield, which is a Charter city, not a statuatory city? Would the statute overrule the Charter? the municipal liquor store is tied in with the concept of a more self-determining local gov’t as originally conceived in the Charter.

    Alex: you’re the chair of the Charter commission, what do you think? This may be another instance of why do we have a charter, if the statutes overrule in every case, as Maren Swanson (city Attny.) often says when a specific issue comes up?

    As to economic return, don’t forget the liquor store contributes about 180 thousand $$$ to the city’s general fund each year, as opposed to X? taxes, each year, and that shared with county and school district.
    Interesting issue…………….. I don’t see how you would recoup a competitive amount each year from the one-time land sale, and the taxes.

  7. And what are the ramifications of additional property taxes, jobs and increased downtown traffic from multiple private liquor operations?
    And it wouldn’t just be a land sale, there would be a substantial value to the sale of a private business. Added together, it could be a win — and a move to get government out of private business, where it doesn’t belong.

  8. RE: the multi meetings Monday nite in the Council Chambers:

    Here’s my understanding

    At 5:30 PM there is an Open Work Session to discuss property location[s] for a possible new liquor store [city owned]

    Some time after that there is a closed meeting for the Council to discuss THE CITY’s purchase price of this alternative site for a new liquor store… the city might be purchasing.

    Following the closed session, the council will convene in a regular session to handle any business on the agenda – and it should not be presumed they will the move to act on the purchase agreement on identified property discussed in the Open or Closed session. NOT ON THE AGENDA!

    The closing of the Cost discussion, it seems, is to protect the city’s position in HOW serious [how many dollars ] they are willing to talk about when buying. e.g. not tipping their price point.

    PS Alex Beeby [Pres of Charter Commission] has a conflict of interest if he’s talking about liquor sales at the Co-op [new legislation] and the Charter Commissions potential roll in any of that.

  9. So what is the maximum budget for land and a new building, what’s the annual debt service and how does that impact the other projects on the city’s plate. (Yes, I realize the liquor store is a separate budget, but there are bonding implications.)
    Random acts of kindness are good; random acts of construction are unacceptable.

  10. FYI, the Charter requirement under section 9.5 is for a five-year CIP (note the charter currently says “capital improvement budget,” but a rewording will go to the council soon).

    Also, Victor is correct that if anything regarding liquor sales in grocery stores came before the CCommission, I would need to recuse myself. That has not happened as yet. Whether it will depends on any new legislation that may or may not pass and its wording and placement.

    Whether liquor sales are available in grocery stores or not, I do not believe it is right for the city to operate any monopoly for the main reason of filling the coffers. If they must have a monopoly, any revenues should be separated or at most, put towards alcohol-related programs (police, health, etc.).

  11. Liquor Store Discussion
    by Victor

    The City (Well, it’s leadership – including Council, EDA, and Plan Commission, at the very least ) have a responsibility to deal with these kinds of issues (Liquor store, Q block, etc.) in a proactive manner. A liquor store operated by the city may be viewed ”inappropriate” by some who spout the usual: “city’s are not in the retail business” or ‘there’s a morality issue here. We don’t want our city promoting alcohol consumption.

    Others should point out it’s a legal construct – has roots seated in both of those facets of the discussion, but will argue the opposite side of the question. That is: by controlling the sale (via a Muni) Northfield can control the proliferation of Liquor Stores, hence control liquor sales. AND… by running this “inevitable” successful retail business we are adding to the public coffers. Win win?

    Regardless of which side of those or other related arguments you might be on, the city ( Staff? Council? whomever… ) is to be commended for taking up this issue in an exploratory manner. Reviewing the values… assets and liabilities is perfectly appropriate. Proactive in fact. Whining about how full the plate is of other needs is simply sounding off to be heard. Elected and staff leaders who isolate issues and discuss them “pro and con” are doing their due deliberation, thank you.

    If you want to make noise about any flaw in the process in this one… right now, you might ask, why hasn’t the EDA weighed in on this for the past five years. In a variety of ways the Council has… [witness past studies] while it is my opinion that the EDA has never taken an advisory position on: If, how, where, and when. Clearly they [EDA] know/knew of the discussion and the studies. Clearly this issue along with many other development considerations is an economic one. That is to say, like the Art Movie Theater on the Q block— a Liquor Store downtown provides a kind of anchor to the downtown.. and therefore is worthy of complete consideration. {sic] the EDA’s TIP Economic Plan.

    While the Mayor may be impatient – and often wants to move along, just to get along… at least he is driving this wagon forward into unknown territory while not risking anything other than ridicule from the skewed vision of uninformed bystanders.

    PS Alex should also recognize that recusing ones self from the vote, takes you out of the dialogue as well. The measure is simply… no influence on the outcome if you’ve a fiscal relationship with the question.

  12. Alex,
    I’m so pleased there is at least a five-year plan. Can you tell me where it is on the city website, where the liquor store and library are ranked in that plan, and what the budgets are for those projects?

  13. Something just came to me…This is a very, very lucrative proposition. The city should put out a request for proposal, see who offers the best deal for land and construction, and then decide what makes sense.

  14. Wine with dinner…
    Just Foods, Cub, Econo Foods, WalMart Supercenter, Target Supercenter…
    and what about small business in downtown… you could say MGM is a small business, it’s not publically owned or traded. It’s a Minnesota business like Haskells or Surdyck’s. (What’s local today may not be local in the future.) So who do you want selling liquore in Northfield and if it’s a good idea for the city to sell liquore then why aren’t they selling milk and …? It’s a slippery slope. Oh, what would Milton Friedman do?

  15. Victor, I’m sure you don’t mean I need to recuse myself from this conversation, but rather from any discussion of liquor sales in grocery stores at the charter commission. As the liquor store does not appear to be referenced in the charter but instead comes from state statute and municipal ordinance code, the above scenario does not seem likely.

    Also, as it is entirely appropriate to explore the state of the liquor store in a proactive manner (I agree, good job City), I also think it is appropriate to discuss the philosophic aspects as well.

    Note: The liquor store is established in Chapter 6> Article 2> Division 4 of Part II of the municipal code — the ordinance code. It references Minn. Stat. § 340A.601 et seq.

    Anne, I am not familiar with the current state of the city’s five-year CIP, except to say that I think city staff (Finance Director Kathleen McBride in particular) is working hard to make it into a functional CIP rather than just a long term wish list. There is a space for it on their Web site, but it is not there yet.

  16. Victor, on recusing from debate and vote:

    Alex: To clarify.

    Inasmuch as you are a member of the N’fld Charter Commission and the N’fld Charter deals directly with the existence [and the future] of the N’fld Municipal Liquor Store, and, as you are also a management level employee of the co-op [Just foods]… and because grocery stores would be impacted by the Legislature’s decisions regarding where in the state liquor may be sold… and further, any related official discussion in Northfield dealing with the role of the city in maintaining a liquor store as a city facility… I believe then, you may not engage in any “official discussion” that might effect or direct the city’s decision on operating such an entity, when that decision is in any way related to business potential at the Co-op.

    Is that all horribly redundant?

    However, as an interested person participating in the LG conversation on the matter of Liquor stores in Northfield, of course you may participate at your’s and all our pleasure… and incidentally, I hold you opinion on many of these matters with a far higher regard than that of some of the more lugubrious participants.

    Incidentally, taken perhaps to the more extreme, ANY elected official, or voting Board or Commission member who is also a contributing investor or employee with Just foods, should be recused form any official discussion or vote on these matters.

    I am not a member of any Board or Commission… nor am I an elected official, [sigh] but I am an investor, as I believe are some members of those bodies, begging the question, how difficult would it be to get a quorum on any discussion of this nature… further begging the question: how many of the US Congress who voted on the War Initiative for G W Bush are stock holders in any business related to (or doing business with ) the war effort?

    As a small contributing investor, were I an elected official, in such a case I would rescind my investment, rather than back away from the official dialogue.. in the US Coingress or the matters of Northfield MN. Not to worry!

    victor

  17. Two points of disagreement:

    1. A cursory scan (and electronic scan) of the Northfield charter indicates that it does not deal “directly with the existence [and the future] of the N’fld Municipal Liquor Store.”

    2. Even if this were the case, I believe, though not an attorney, that “any related official discussion in Northfield dealing with the role of the city in maintaining a liquor store as a city facility,” excepting specific discussion regarding grocery stores, would be indirect enough as to not be a conflict of interest. Particularly since grocers are currently, and IMHO likely to be into the forseeable future, prohibited from selling such products.

    I also believe one can take analysis of conflicts of interest to an axcessive extreme, but where is that line? The safest is probably to get legal advice when there is risk of even approaching it. If I recall correctly, the city disclosure form has a minimum investment of something like $500 to require disclosure.

  18. I favor no location. It’s time for the city of Northfield to get out of the liquor business. I would like to see private ownership of a business or businesses like this. I am a firm believer that if you want something done right, don’t let a governmental entity do it. Private businesses are always better than anything a governmental agency can do. The financial return to the city is so inconsequential that it’s just not worth it.

  19. Yes, Alex, this is the perfect time to consider the philosophical and economic implications of a city liquor store versus the free market — and the economic implications of a capital project. I think adding alcohol sales would be just the kind of boost to Whole Foods and EconoFoods that would help them stay profitable, which seems to be a big concern. Does it make sense to gain $180,000 from a city liquor store and then spend that much on economic development downtown?
    And should the city own the building or lease, keeping the building on the tax rolls and giving the city some flexibility in getting out of the business if the legal situation changes.
    Or maybe the city should choose to stay in the liquor business, but run a bar as well, which would increase profits.
    And if there’s a bar, the city could serve food…
    and maybe we’d get a restaurant with a commercial kitchen and grill.

  20. Regarding Victor’s comments on conflicts of interest for co-op owners, MN statute 471.88 Subdivision 4 specifically exempts this from the conflict of interest requirements.

    BTW, it appears that the majority of the conflict of interest laws are in regards to direct benefit — as in the awarding of contracts to a company or organization in which the official has a direct interest. So, even if the state allowed the sale of liquor (wine and real beer) in grocery stores and I were on the council, I might be able to participate in discussion and vote on an ordinance change removing the city’s monopoly in this area. I would not, it seems, however, be able to participate in discussion or vote on the sale of a liquor license to the co-op. Wow, is that ever hypothetical.

  21. Hello Alex – I’m no Charter Commission maven – but as I read your cited statutes, they do not cover what you claim. I’ll paraphrase below

    471.88 EXCEPTIONS.

        Subdivision 1. Coverage. The governing body of any port authority, seaway port authority, economic development authority, watershed district, soil and water conservation district, town, school district, hospital district, county, or city, by unanimous vote, may contract for goods or services with an interested officer of the governmental unit in any of the following cases.

    471.88 as I read it, allows for a GOVERNING BODY, BY unanimous vote to contract with an organization [in this case co-op associations] when a member of the governmental unit is also a member of the co-op association. I doesn’t mention any individual member’s possible conflict – merely allows for the Gov body to do business with the other agency.

    Subd. 4. specifies a Cooperative association. but is silent on the issue of any individual conflict of interest.

    I read all that as merely saying: a Governing body (city – EDA etc.) may enter into a contract with a Co-op even when a member of the Gov. Body is also a member of the Co-op. 471.88 doesn’t deal with the recusing of any individual who has an official relationship with both bodies, which is what I stated.

    But there may be other statutes that do address your point.

    I’d also mention that my cursory viewing of the statutes indicated to me that all of 471 had been repealed, which begs other questions… none of which really address the issue of Northfield running a Liquor Store. It is a City Council decision and the citizens should have an opportunity to express their point of view.

    victor

  22. I have stated previously and will say again…I am against the City (or any government entity)
    from being in the liquor business. The costs of
    alcohol abuse far surpass $180,000, which the city “earns” from the store. I think we should put liquor stores far away from other businesses; make acessing liquor very difficult. Also, our mayor & family have an interest in the former Tires Plus land. How is that entering in? Also, for those hearing my rant last week about “other entities” competing
    with small business…yup, it happens again and again. I’ll document 5-10 examples in the next few days.

  23. With all of the talk about “conflict of interest,” how come no one has bothered to note that the Lansing family (as in the mayor of our fair city) is an investor in the property development at 6th & Division — one of the proposed sites for a “new & improved” liquor store? Whether or not the store moves or is remodeled or whatever, the site at 6th & Division should not even be a consideration (unless the mayor wants to resign his position).

  24. Oops! Of course, now I see that the comment from Barbara Gentling mentions the Lansing connection to one of the proposed relocation sites. It’s a legitimate concern. My two cents: keep the liquor store where it is. If the City wants to pop for some new carpet, fresh paint, some updated signage, mod light fixtures, whatever — go for it. But there are so many other things this town “needs” that would benefit the entire community, not just those that want a snazzy new muni.

  25. Aside from all the opinion here…..which by the way, I think is GREAT! This is a town that should have town meetings……….there are a couple of clear issues. We DO have a municipal liquor store, and whether or not we should have one is a discussion that citizens might wish to “force” upon the council.
    But as long as we do have one, it should be of sufficient quality to serve the community needs, AND bring in the most return it can to the city coffers. In these days of local gov’t aid cuts from the state, I don’t think 180K $$ a year is an amount that should be considered negligible.
    Where it is located should have two major considerations, IMHO: where it will bring in the best revenue , and support other central business district entities. If those are the major concerns, then how can the 600 block of Division, either adjoining or across from Econofoods, not be the best site?
    To those who consider the location to be a conflict for the mayor, let me just say that the 600 block was considered to be a prime possibility before Mr. Lansing was elected. And also since his business(es), and properties, on that block have been very public knowledge, there is nothing being done that is not subject to scrutiny. I personally find the location to be the most important asset to the liquor store functioning to its maximum stated benefit to the city.

    Maybe a new thread should be started to discuss the issue of “should the city of NF be in the business of selling liquor?” I personally think it just diffuses the central question of location, here. And it is a legitimate question. What about it, Griff? Start a new thread?

  26. I’m not opposed to a new discussion thread on whether the City should continue being in the liquor business, Kiffi.

    I’d like to wait another day or so to see what develops from council meetings tonight.

  27. A separate thread just pushes the central discussion to the side. There is no need for a new location if the city gets out of the liquor business and creates a level playing field for all private businesses.
    And saying we should build a new store just because we’ve always had a liquor store is beside the point. If we had the authority to have a casino, an brothel or a hardware store, would the revenue be enough reason to do it?

  28. I must not be able to read; I thought the heading of this discussion was “liquor store LOCATION”…………

    Does anyone want to go to the City Council discussion tonight, and suggest that they discuss the basic issue of whether the city should be in the liquor sales biz or not, prepatory to deciding on a new location?

    That would be interesting, and according to some opinions timely; but I’ve observed a tendancy towards hesitancy when it comes to
    publicly, in person, speaking out. Is it possible that this sort of on-line discussion , which is certainly public, will encourage people to speak in the council chambers, instead of from their computer stations.

    That would be a really positive outcome of on-line discussion groups.

  29. Council meeting notes (braindump form, sorry):
    Mayor Lansing opened the meeting then recused himself. Council discussion seemed as confused as this one. The topic was generally raised, and they seemed to agree that it was appropriate and beneficial for the city maintain its monopoly.

    Council, it seemed to me, was being asked to select a “prefered” location, so a more detailed feasibility and cost analysis could be done. I never quite gathered what the actual purpose of the closed session would have been — there seemed to be confusion on the council on this as well — but the council never really solved the first question anyway and never made it to a closed session. The open portion ended at 6:55 p.m.

    I think the “result” can best be described as a general leaning to suggesting that city staff might consider possibly looking to the prefered locations being something like the 600 Division location, the Econofoods location … and maybe the Q Block, or even anything in downtown or at the corner of First and Hwy. 3… without restricting any other possibility, including that of maintaining the same location. Confused? So were they.

    There was more nuance, obviously, but my hope is that this gives you a sense of the meeting — if there was one? Oh, wait, I think there was consensus that pretty much everyone left frustrated and confused.

    My thought on what the “should” have done was to direct staff to choose one of the two primary locations, based on their feasibility impression, and do a more thorough feasibility study and cost analysis on that “prefered” location. Then have them come back to the council with a report on that location, a current space projection, and a list of any other potentially desirable locations with an estimate of the differences they might have with the “prefered.”

    Wow, was that a mouthful!

  30. Again, why isn’t the city putting out an RFP to get proposals from developers and property owners??? Then the city can compare proposals and make an informed decision. Sending the city staff out to do the legwork and develop proposals seems a waste of time and money.

  31. The city IS the “developer” in this case, and they have had proposals from property owners (which would have been the subject of the closed session, if it had ocurred.)
    Staff asked the council to limit their preference to two of the proposed sites, so that staff can then go back to their consultants and ask them to compare them as to development costs, general feasibility, and projected ROI.
    It started as a confusing meeting, but IMHO, mostly in the area of behind the scenes dynamics; that’s all I’ll say about that.
    Alex, your “result” paragraph is not quite accurate ; council’s straw poll did narrow site preference to the two Division street (600 block) sites. ( “braindump” is excusable; a tiring meeting, finally over at 10:08 after starting at 5:30. )

    Staff now feels those two sites can be compared, “apples to apples” .
    the saga continues……………..

  32. There is a difference between just receiving random proposals and creating a set of criteria and using a formal request for proposals. Cities do this all the time, and for much larger projects — and publicly. Still no financial accountability on this, no recognition that working on this project with such limited staff means the library and safety center will be pushed back until folks have time. No budget, no answers, and a rush to do a project that will decrease city revenues. What’s the rush??

  33. One other thing…Is the city leasing the space or does it own the building? If the city is the owner, officials should have sought proposals for the sale of the existing building. With the difficulty of filling vacancies downtown, it would seem irresponsible to create a new vacancy and have two properties off the tax rolls.
    And if there’s no buyer to provide capital for the project, why move ahead on something that clearly isn’t an emergency?

  34. in no order of importance, but I believe following sequence in above comment ( #37):
    1. city owns the building
    2. no point offering for sale now; several entities waiting in line for possible availability
    3. as it is city owned, is not ON tax rolls
    4. since an improved facility has been considered a priority of somewhat “urgent”nature since the “Springsted Study” in 2002,moving ahead 4 years later does not seem impetuous………

  35. I concur with Kiffi’s comment on the net result of the meeting (comment 35). My comment (33) was directed more at the nature of the meeting. Thank you for the clarification.

  36. awfully quiet over here………. some people were at the council meeting last Monday for the liquor store discussion, the newspaper has written an account of it, as well as an editorial, and no one has any more thoughts/reactions?
    What did y’all think of the NFNews editorial?
    What do you think of the “preferred” sites?

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