Lansing block now the lead contender for liquor store location

muni_crop.jpgIn Wednesday’s Northfield News, reporter Suzanne Rock wrote an article titled Lansing lot eyed for new liquor store: 6-0 vote to start negotiations

And then there was one. Reservations about a new municipal liquor store and dissatisfaction over possible locations didn’t keep the Northfield City Council Monday from unanimously selecting a site for a future liquor store. Councilors Noah Cashman and Jon Denison expressed concern with the proposed locations. And Councilor Jim Pokorney said he wasn’t sure it was the right time to build a new store.

However, the council’s 6-0 vote Monday night gave city staff the authority to negotiate for the purchase or lease of the property in the 600 block of Division Street. The other site considered is just across the street adjacent to the Econofoods grocery store. The 600 Division site, the former Tires Plus location, is owned by David and Heidi Lansing. David Lansing is the son of Mayor Lee Lansing. The mayor recused himself from Monday’s discussion, as he has previously during other discussions about the property.

In same issue, the Northfield News editorial criticized the decision. And in today’s paper, former mayor Keith Covey and Alex Beeby have letters to the editor on the issue. See below for the text/links to all three.

Editorial:

This time, council really did act too quickly
On Monday night, the Northfield City Council voted 6-to-0 to negotiate a lease or purchase agreement for land in the 600 block of Division Street to be used for a new municipal liquor store. We hate to say it, but this is one time the Northfield City Council acted on something too quickly, prompting us to wonder what was the hurry? There are so many reasons why the Northfield City Council should not have voted to proceed with plans for a new liquor store Monday night. We thought we point out just a few of them:

• Toward the top of the list is a potential conflict of interest in the 600 Division site ownership. While Mayor Lee Lansing did recuse himself from the discussion of the property Monday night and previously, the site should have been excluded from consideration purely to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The potential for this to benefit the mayor’s family while not unethical, seems at the least improper.

• Additionally, at least three of the six councilmen – Jon Denison, Jim Pokorney and Noah Cashman – had reservations Monday about the two site options, if not the whole business of the city selling liquor. So had the three voiced their opposition, the vote to move forward would have failed on a 3-to-3 tie. That doesn’t seem like overwhelming support from the council.

• Furthermore, the projected net income for the liquor store at the 600 Division site could be significantly less than at the EconoFoods site due to potential lease payments. And a consultant’s report already has stated that sites along Minnesota Highway 3 would have been more profitable than either of the final sites considered.

• Also, one of the biggest reasons for increasing the size of the liquor store is to increase the city’s revenue. What would be the returns if that $2 million for the new building were instead invested in carrying out other possible economic development projects? Even say the proposed ice arena, which proponents say would generate revenue for the city …

• And perhaps most importantly of all, should building a new liquor store be the city’s top priority now? It’s been suggested that at least four other pricey municipal buildings are strongly needed and would bring a greater public good – a library, a police and fire station, a city hall, an ice arena. Affording all of these projects will be difficult enough; do we want to increase the tax burden with something we can live without? It’s true that this issue has been debated for at least five years, maybe more. But considering how ambiguous the city council’s support of the new liquor store is and the many other pressing questions surrounding the potentials sites selected and the need for a new store, this is one time the city council actually did rush ahead too quickly.

Keith Covey

Editorial went off the tracks
To the editor:
The News editorial on the proposed new liquor store ended badly off-target after raising a couple valid issues.

“Most importantly …” the liquor store has never been supported by property taxes and a new store will not increase the city tax burden. Store expenses, including capital costs, are paid for by store income. In fact, that income helps pay for the city’s urgent needs.

Second, the council can’t make a responsible decision without knowing what its costs will be. Directing staff to negotiate property costs is not a decision to buy; it’s the essential next step toward informed action.

I’m not a fan of the municipal liquor concept, but if we’re going to keep our store, it should grow to meet customers’ desires and help pay for more community needs. I applaud the council for keeping the process moving, in spite of some members’ reservations.

Keith Covey, Northfield

Alex Beeby

Your opinion doesn’t matter
To the editor:
So what do you think? Should the city maintain its monopoly on off-sale liquor sales in Northfield? I have heard many people in recent weeks question this policy, but apparently, the city council doesn’t need our input. This paper bore the news on Wednesday that the council instructed city staff to negotiate for the purchase of a new liquor store location. They did this without adequate discussion of the underlying policy and without adequately assessing the financial implications of a move.

While many people in Northfield are not clear as to why we are in this business in the first place, the council chose to bypass any real public discussion on that subject. Policies should be reviewed periodically to ensure they appropriately reflect a city’s values. The perfect time to look at our off-sale liquor policy is before we consider putting resources toward a store move. Maybe we would reaffirm our position, maybe not, but we would have had a purposeful and open discussion and known where we stand.

Pretend, as the council did, that public concern over our off-sale liquor monopoly doesn’t matter; the council should still make a careful financial assessment of a liquor store move. Here, at least, they made a hasty, but certainly not a thorough, look at the costs and benefits of such a move. They looked at the financial projections for two prospective locations, but I see no projections for their current site. All apparent current-site information compared the store’s recent sales to other stores from primarily different regions. Again, maybe a better fiscal assessment would justify a move, maybe not, but we would be moving with our eyes open rather than blinded by some mysterious urgency.

For our representative democracy to work, our elected officials must be held accountable. When they make decisions in an improper manner like this, we must let them know that it is unacceptable. If they continue to do so, they are no longer worthy to serve and must be replaced. Hopefully, they will heed our warning.

Alexander J. Beeby, Northfield

One thought on “Lansing block now the lead contender for liquor store location”

  1. The Council approved construction of a new swimming pool (improperly, as it turns out) without any deliberate attempt at public discussion.

    And now it’s proceeding towards approval of a new liquor store without any deliberate attempt at public discussion.

    WTF! Right on, Alex.

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