Panel cautiously agrees to public drinking at downtown Fargo events

FARGO - A request by downtown merchants to allow public drinking during special events got the green light from the Liquor Control Board Wednesday, May 16, but only for this year.City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, who chairs the board, said the cit...
The Liquor Control Board has given the Downtown Community Partnership the green light to allow public drinking during special events in downtown Fargo on a one-year trial basis. Forum file photo

FARGO - A request by downtown merchants to allow public drinking during special events got the green light from the Liquor Control Board Wednesday, May 16, but only for this year.

City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, who chairs the board, said the city has to be very careful about making such a change permanent. He asked for and got support for an expiration date for the law, which would be effective only through Dec. 31.

Melissa Rademacher, Downtown Community Partnership president and CEO, had asked the city for an exception to the open container-law on behalf of the merchants' association in February.

She said Wednesday that it was a response to seeing participants of the Cork & Canvas art walk slamming drinks to get to the next venue. Research on similar events in other cities found participants will sip if allowed to roam freely from venue to venue, she said.

The DCP would like to exception for the Downtown Street Fair in July as well. Cork & Canvas is scheduled for June.

Not all downtown merchants approved of the idea.

Greg Danz, one of the owners of Zandbroz Variety, said Sioux Falls allows public drinking during special events and he's had to close his store there when that happens. Bars may benefit, but not retail stores like his, he said.

The proposed law creates a new kind of liquor license specifically for special events organized by the DCP. Only businesses with certain kinds of liquor licenses may qualify to serve under the DCP permit and only until 9 p.m. Those drinking in public must have a special DCP wristband and DCP cup, and are limited to an area defined by the DCP.

City commissioners will have to vote at least twice to put the law on the books.

City Attorney Erik Johnson said he may have it ready for a first reading Monday, May 21, but it might have to wait until the June 4 meeting.

In other news, City Commissioner Tony Gehrig was unable to get the rest of the Liquor Control Board to agree to hire a consultant to study ways to simplify liquor licensing. City codes now include 30 different kinds of licenses, which represent a multitude of business models. Any business or group that want a different model - the DCP for instance - must ask the city to create a new kind of license.

A 2015 task force that Gehrig chaired was unable to agree to any significant reforms. Members of the task force included city regulators and existing liquor license holders, who Gehrig said resisted change.

Gehrig made a motion Wednesday to put out a request for qualifications seeking a consultant but it died for lack of a second.

He said many people have told him they're angry with the way the system is set up and he hopes the City Commission will be more amenable to hiring a consultant.