City Gives OK To Liquor Policy

March 30, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Commissioners approved the city’s new policy last week that makes state-issued liquor licenses available to restaurants and entertainment businesses located in qualified development areas such as the downtown district and Monroe North.

“We have a concern of receiving a flood of new applications. We don’t want to flood the market with new licenses all at once,” said Jay Fowler, Downtown Development Authority executive director.

Fowler told commissioners that is why the city’s policy contains a pecking order of which businesses get the first shot at applying for a license; existing ones that meet the state’s qualifications will be able to apply first.

To qualify, businesses have to be located in a building that has had at least $75,000 worth of investment made to it over the last five years, or make a $75,000 investment in it before a license is approved. The state Liquor Control Commission has final approval of all licenses.

A development liquor license costs $20,000 — far below the value of an escrowed one — but it can’t be transferred to another location as the standard Class C license can.

Fowler said 55 percent of the license fee comes back to the city and that money is used for enforcement purposes. City Clerk Terry Hegarty said another 3.5 percent goes to the state’s substance abuse programs.

“I think this is a much better policy,” said 1st Ward Commissioner Roy Schmidt.

Schmidt was referring to the downtown liquor licenses the state made available a decade ago. The price tag on those was cheaper, but only 50 were allowed statewide and none were approved for downtown. The state hasn’t put a limit on the number of licenses that can be issued to businesses in development districts.

State law determines what qualifies as an “entertainment” business, but Fowler said pool halls and bowling alleys would likely meet the definition.

A downtown restaurant seeking a license needs approval from the DDA and the city before its application can go to the LCC. Copies of the city’s policy are available in the clerk’s office at City Hall.    

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