Residents, competitors oppose liquor license for MGM store in Brooklyn Park

liquor bottlesThe Brooklyn Park City Council has delayed a decision about whether to allow MGM Wine and Spirits to open in the shopping center on the 8500 block of Edinburgh Center Drive near Festival Foods.

At a Dec. 17 public hearing on the issue, the council received a petition with more than 500 signatures asking it to reject the requested liquor license. Seth Alward, one of the new owners of the BP Liquor Barrel located across the street from the proposed MGM site, presented the petition.

“These are concerned citizens,” Alward told the council. He said residents worry having another liquor store in the area could increase crime in the neighborhood. They’re concerned another liquor store does nothing to promote economic growth in the area and could damage the city’s image, he suggested.

“(Residents are) concerned that Brooklyn Park will be falsely viewed as a city that has a liquor store on every corner,” he said.

Erik Warg, who lives about a mile from the shopping center in question, echoed Alward’s message at the public hearing.

“The addition of MGM will not bring anything new to our community or help it,” he said. “It will actually hurt it in image and safety. Within one-and-a-half miles from my house, I have three locally owned and operated liquor stores.”

Warg said if MGM went in, he and his wife might not feel comfortable raising their future children in the neighborhood.

Complications

The owners of the BP Liquor Barrel were also concerned about their business interests. They told the council the city gave them incorrect information regarding available liquor licenses, and that information affected their decision to purchase the store in November.

Mark O’Connell, Alward’s business partner, said that at the beginning of September he asked city staff whether any liquor licenses were available or expected to become available soon.

“We needed to understand our risk in … acquiring a very substantial project in that location,” he said.

Staff told him no licenses were available but that if an existing store closed, that license would become available.

“I accepted that information as accurate and relied heavily on it through the rest of the due-diligence process,” O’Connell said.

By November no existing liquor stores had closed, and O’Connell and Alward purchased the BP Liquor Barrel. About three weeks later, O’Connell said, he opened the Sun-Post and saw a public hearing scheduled to consider granting a liquor license for MGM across the street. O’Connell asked the city to consider these circumstances when making its decision.

Restraining trade?

On the other side of the issue Rick Plessner — a representative of Inland Real Estate, owner of the shopping center that has negotiated a lease with MGM — told the city council it’s not the city’s job to “restrain trade in our area.”

He pointed out that, under previous ownership, the Liquor Barrel had once been in the shopping center in question and had been given the right of being the only liquor store in the center. The previous owners moved the store across the street despite the fact that liquor stores are common tenants in such developments.

Plessner pointed out there are three liquor stores on one corner at the intersection of Brooklyn Boulevard and West Broadway. He also reminded the council that MGM operated in the city for years and was a licensee in good standing with a prospective site zoned appropriately.

MGM’s owner, Michael Maglich, agreed. He said MGM was part of the community for more than 25 years.

“We’re excited to be re-opening here in Brooklyn Park,” he said.

Maglich also told the council it was difficult to find a location large enough to house its store, and that this location was also appealing because it’s next to a grocery store.

History

Some confusion arose at the meeting regarding liquor licenses available in the city and the history of council action.

In a subsequent interview with the Sun-Post, Community Development Director Jason Aarsvold clarified the situation.

City ordinance limits the number of liquor licenses available in the city to one per 4,000 residents, which currently translates to 19 licenses.

In 2005 the city council was concerned about geographical distribution of liquor stores and decided not to grant any new licenses south of 93rd Avenue. At the time there were 12 stores operating south of 93rd. The council decided if one store closed, the license would become available.

But the council didn’t codify the policy with an ordinance.

To further complicate matters, it also directed staff to reserve a 13th license for Star Liquors, in case the store wanted to reopen in a new location. Star Liquors had operated in a building at the Village North Shopping Center, which the city purchased and demolished as part of a redevelopment effort.

“We wanted to make sure this didn’t preclude that liquor store from opening somewhere else in the city,” Aarsvold said.

Star Liquors has never re-applied for a liquor license.

When MGM approached city staff about the liquor licenses that appeared to be available, staff realized that the license reserved for Star was still unused, and it didn’t appear Star was going to request it. So staff agreed to put MGM’s request before the city council.

Council reactions

Council members Rich Gates and Bob Mata seemed opposed to the liquor license, while other council members wanted questions answered before coming to a conclusion.

Gates said he couldn’t support the liquor license until the council discussed whether it wanted to release the remaining license currently being held for Star Liquor. He also said about 20 residents emailed him to oppose the license.

While acknowledging the high concentration of liquor stores at Brooklyn Boulevard and West Broadway, Gates felt that situation was different because the stores lie in a high-density commercial area, instead of being surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

Mata said he felt the city had an obligation to the BP Liquor Barrel’s owners not to approve the license.

“… Even if it was a mistake at the time … that’s the answer you were given, and you based your decisions on spending a lot of money on that,” he told them. “… And I think we owe it to you to honor that.”

Mata also admitted he had personal reasons for opposing the license.

“It’s very close to my son and daughter-in-law’s home healthcare and sick-child care center,” he said. “And I would not like to see a liquor store right across the street from them.”

Councilmember Dean Heng also expressed concern over the information given to the Liquor Barrel’s owners and said staff should have notified O’Connell when they discovered the mistake.

Councilmember Elizabeth Knight suggested continuing the discussion at another meeting so staff could answer questions she had. She didn’t elaborate on those questions.

Crema agreed with Knight. He said he fully agreed with “free enterprise” but had questions for staff that couldn’t be answered at the meeting.

Councilmember Mike Trepanier said he has no issue with MGM and doesn’t think the city council has “the right to make a decision that one business can compete, and the other one cannot.”

Nevertheless, he agreed with Gates that the council should be intentional about the direction it decides to go with liquor licenses and whether it wants to change its policies.

Trepanier said he was struggling to remember the discussion and policies the council had in 2005 and asked staff to research past discussions to clarify the situation.

Mayor Jeffrey Lunde said he had questions about the decision-making process and whether the city could penalize MGM for a mistake made by city staff.

The council agreed that, if possible, the issue should come back at the next meeting, Jan. 7, because the businesses involved deserved an answer as soon as possible.

The council approved the motion to continue the discussion in a 6-1 vote with Heng dissenting.

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