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Fargo commission poised to vote down alcohol in theaters

FARGO - A liquor license for cinemas here will have a difficult time passing if it passes at all, given hostile reaction on the City Commission Monday night.

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FARGO – A liquor license for cinemas here will have a difficult time passing if it passes at all, given hostile reaction on the City Commission Monday night.

The proposed law creating such a class of licenses barely passed what's normally a routine vote to acknowledge the proposal.

"I had about 20 different either emails, phone calls or handwritten letters and they were all unanimous," said Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, a member of the Liquor Control Board. "They were not in favor of having liquor in the theaters. I didn't get one in favor the other way."

He joined with Commissioner Melissa Sobolik, a rare alliance, to vote against a motion to "receive and file," meaning to notify the public and schedule two votes on the law itself. Sobolik said she received 40 to 60 emails against alcohol in theaters.

The majority voted for the motion, but Commissioner Mike Williams said he voted "yes" merely to allow a public discussion. He said he wouldn't favor alcohol in theaters, either.

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The only commissioner to speak in favor was Tony Gehrig, who said other cities have theaters that serve alcohol, and he didn't see any problems when he went to one while in Texas.

It's a different reaction than the proposal received at the Liquor Control Board, which voted 3-1 to send the proposed law to the commission. The lone dissenting vote on the liquor panel was Piepkorn. Gehrig, the other city commissioner on the board, sided with the majority.

The request for a liquor license came to the board from Marcus Theatres, which owns West Acres Cinema and Century Cinema in Fargo. The Milwaukee-based company serves alcohol at other cinemas it owns in cities where the law allows it. After extensive discussion, the Liquor Control Board agreed to recommend the creation of the FA-Cinema license class, which limits alcohol sales to 50 percent of a theater's revenue; the rest must come from food, tickets or other goods.

Gehrig said the city should give Marcus Theatres a chance because it would have a lot to lose if it allowed things to get out of control. He said he, too, has heard from voters, but many told him they want to see alcohol sold at theaters.

Marcus Theatres' attorney was present at the meeting but did not speak.

A first reading of the law is expected at the next commission meeting in two weeks.

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