The topic came up when the board members addressed the process of building a new municipal liquor store to replace the old one on Fifth Street.
“This is a political hot potato,” Steve Engler, who joined the development authority in September, said after the meeting. “I was trying to clarify who was making decisions.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has told the city the liquor store cannot continue to operate without significant renovation. Facing an ultimatum, the council decided in August that constructing a new store would probably be more cost-effective than making repairs. So, it asked city staff to issue a request for proposals for a new store.
In the past, controversy surrounded the decision to build anew when Mayor Lee Lansing allegedly attempted to convince the council to approve construction at a location that could have resulted in his financial benefit.
“You said this is politically charged; it shouldn’t be, it’s a liquor store,” James Pokorney, city councilor, told Engler at the meeting.
Pokorney added later that the decision might have been political at one time if the mayor had indeed done something inappropriate, but it should not be any longer.
Joel Walinski, interim city administrator, told the members of the development authority about the status of the decision to build a new liquor store. The city’s request for proposals brought in seven responses that could fit the requirements City Council set for the new store. They are still not available for public viewing.
Walinski said the Economic Development Authority’s Infill Committee, a group of city staff, the Northfield Enterprise Center and Donnelly Development will help assign points to each of the proposals that fall within the council’s requirements. The proposals with the most points would be more highly recommended. (Walinski, Brian O’Connell, community development director, and Steve DeLong, liquor store manager, would form the group of city staff).
Engler said he was unsure if it is best to keep the proposals secret from the public while the different groups review them. He also was uncertain if the City Council should take recommendations from staff when perhaps all council needs is a little more basic information about the proposals.
“Aren’t you elected to decide certain things?” Engler asked Pokorney.
Pokorney said City Council has reviewed liquor store proposals in the past but made no decision because the elected officials needed further professional assistance to feel comfortable making the right choice. He said he believed the liquor store presents an opportunity for City Council to benefit from trusting the recommendations of city staff.
“There are people who say ‘We can’t let the staff decide, they’ve got some kind of devious reasoning,'” Pokorney said after the meeting. “I’m tired of it. What we’re asking staff to do is a supportive effort, not a legislative effort. It’s what we hire them to do.”
Following the meeting, Walinski said the proposals would present City Council with a wide range of options. Some of them would allow Northfield to buy undeveloped or developed land and/or buildings and some offered to lease land or buildings. The scoring groups will rate the proposals based on cash flow opportunities and pedestrian access, among other criteria.
Update 11/14 3 p.m.: This afternoon, I made some grammatical changes to the story above.
Update 11/17 12 p.m.: This is a document showing the score sheet for the proposals (PDF).
This is the email from Mr. Walinski, which contained the score sheet attachment:
“Hello Bonnie –
I’ve attached the Liq. Store RFP Document as requested. I’ve also provided you with the Scoring Sheet we will be using to rate the proposals that were submitted. This document was previously provided to the EDA and all interested parties attending the Pre-Submission conference on October 22, 2008.
In answer to your question on the discussion at the EDA Meeting on Thursday, this was the second time this item had been discussed at a EDA Board meeting, the initial discussion was to see if there was interest from the EDA to participate ( October 23, 2008 Item 8.b). The discussion on Thursday was to provide an update on the process, reconfirm the role of the EDA Infill Committee, and make members aware of the timeline.
Regarding your other questions concerning the liquor store, the liquor store questions and planning has been ongoing for at least four years. The Council, residents through public comments, and consultants have had multiple discussions on should the City run a municipal liquor store and at this time the consensus of the council is yes – primarily for the added revenue to the general fund and funding support to support the taskforce working on the prevention of Youth Drug and Alcohol. Another reason given is the City is more in control of the sale of alcohol to minors and advertising of alcohol to minors by having a “muni”. If you need more information on this I would suggest reviewing the tapes of multiple council meetings and work sessions where this item was discussed.
In regards to using the existing store location, making the required improvements and completing the deferred maintenance, this is the base position from which the proposals submitted will be will be judged. We do have good information of the cash flow and business model at the existing site and fairly good estimates of improvements needed and costs. One of the items we will be reviewing is comparing cash flow models and costs of a new location with the existing site. The benefit of moving through an RFP process is that we now have better numbers for what a new store development, purchase of property, or leasing a location would cost given the proposal submissions This should help staff make a recommendation as per the council request. Ultimately more specific information should help the Council and general public to make an informed decision.
Hope this helps –