No liquor license for MGM near Festival in Brooklyn Park

liquor bottlesMGM Liquors won’t get a license to operate alongside Festival Foods in the shopping center on the 8500 block of Edinburgh Center Drive in Brooklyn Park.

The city council didn’t deny MGM’s application at its Jan. 7 meeting — it merely determined no more liquor licenses were available in the city south of 93rd Avenue.

The decision came after much community interest, discussion and confusion regarding actions the council took in 2005.

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

Residents opposed to the license cited concerns about the potential for increased crime. They also said another liquor store does nothing to promote economic growth in the area and could damage the city’s image.

In addition, the owners of the BP Liquor Barrel told the council Dec. 17 that when they asked city staff if any liquor licenses were available in the area, staff said “no.” Alward and his partner Mark O’Connell relied heavily on this information when they chose to purchase the store in November.

At some point, however, city staff told MGM a license was potentially available and agreed to bring an application before the city council.

The owners of MGM and Edinburgh Center argued the city should grant a license because no ordinance prohibits it and because MGM submitted its application in good faith.

Background

The confusion resulted from ambiguity surrounding city council actions in 2005.

Brooklyn Park Planning Director Cindy Sherman explained the situation to the city council at its Jan. 7 meeting.

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 it would issue no new licenses south of 93rd, but if a 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 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. According to staff’s understanding, Star’s license was exempt from the limit of 12 licenses south of 93rd.

About seven years passed, and Star Liquors never re-applied for a liquor license.

According to Sherman, when the owner of Edinburgh Center contacted the city and asked about the availability of licenses, staff initially said none were available in the area. The owner of Edinburgh Center and MGM requested the city reconsider its policy.

As staff members researched the request, Sherman said, they realized Star’s license remained unused, and it didn’t appear Star was going to request it. So staff agreed to put MGM’s liquor license application before the city council.

Letter from Star Liquors owner

The day of the Jan. 7 council meeting, the city received a letter from Star Liquors owner Kenneth Streeter stating that he was “considering submitting an application for (the reserved) liquor license soon.” He asked the council not to take action to prevent him from using the license, saying he only recently heard the city was considering the matter and could not attend the meeting due to a scheduling conflict.

City staff said this was the first time since the council’s action in 2005 that Streeter indicated an intention to apply for a liquor license.

Council action

City staff asked the council Jan. 7 to clarify whether 12 or 13 liquor licenses should be available south of 93rd Avenue. They also asked for clarification regarding the status of Star Liquor’s license.

“In my memory and judgment the actual number is 12,” Councilmember Mike Trepanier said, noting that Star Liquors was a special case.

Councilmember Rich Gates agreed. He said it should remain at 12 licenses south of 93rd Avenue. In his opinion Star was an exception because it had been south of 93rd and was forced to move — no one else was meant to be able to apply for a license south of 93rd unless an existing store closed.

Councilmember John Jordan also agreed. But he asked if the city might face legal danger from MGM if it followed this course of action. City Attorney Melissa Manderschied said city councils have broad discretion in distributing liquor licenses and the council could make such a decision as long as it stated reasons.

Rick Plessner, a representative of Inland Real Estate, owner of Edinburgh Center, told the council’s current policy was wrong and should be reconsidered. He said it would not be easy to find another tenant.

MGM owner, Michael Maglich, said it would be difficult to find another space for his store.

“We’ve been a member of the business community for 30-plus years,” he said. “… It’s very difficult to find the space that accommodates our type of operation in any community, but we’d really like to reopen.”

Maglich also said MGM has never been denied a liquor license. If the council would not approve the license, he asked it instead consider a way to handle the situation without specifically denying the license. City Manager Jamie Verbrugge said if the council decided only 12 licenses were available south of 93rd, then it would not need to deny MGM’s license, because the application would no longer be valid, and the city would refund MGM’s application fee.

Trepanier still supported the 12-license limit with an exception for Star, but he made it clear he has nothing against MGM.

“You have been a good member of the business community,” he told Maglich.

Jordan said the other issue the council needed to decide was whether the city still has an obligation to Star after seven years passed with no written contract and no indication that Star intended to apply for a license. He suggested continuing to reserve a license for Star but setting a time limit. Gates and Trepanier liked that idea. Gates suggested six months. Trepanier thought that was longer than necessary.

Councilmember Peter Crema said Star “fell asleep on their rights” and lost them in this case.

“In my head we’ve got enough (liquor stores) south of 93rd, plain and simple,” he said.

But Crema said the primary issue is providing clarity for staff and potential applicants.

The council voted unanimously to table the discussion until Jan. 22. Mayor Jeffrey Lunde was absent due to health concerns. Staff will draft a proposal for consideration on Jan. 22. At Councilmember Bob Mata’s request staff will also notify Star Liquors’ owner of the council’s planned discussion.

Contact Jonathan Young at jonathan.young@ecm-inc.com

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