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August 31, 2011

Expansion could lead to more liquor licenses in New Albany

Caesar: City’s riverfront permits were meant for restaurants, not bars

NEW ALBANY — Mayor Doug England has requested the New Albany City Council begin the process of expanding the riverfront development district, which would allow additional restaurants to garner liquor licenses.

The council will take a first ballot Thursday on amending the riverfront area to include what Deputy Mayor Carl Malysz labeled the downtown dining district from East Fifth to West Fifth Streets.

If approved, the expansion would include most properties west of State Street from the flood levee to West Spring Street. Through state statute, a riverfront district allows city’s to award liquor licenses to establishments that are located within the boundary.

A state liquor license is hard to obtain for businesses outside a riverfront district. According to the Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission, the available liquor license quota for package stores or restaurants is 99 percent filled inside city limits in the state.

Thus, Malysz said it’s not unusual for an establishment to have to pay as much as $30,000 for a liquor license for a “floating permit.”

But if the mayor approves of a liquor license inside the riverfront district, the establishment that receives the permit pays a $1,000 upfront fee and a nominal annual renewal charge. The difference in price helps entice restaurants to open downtown, Malysz said.

“Let’s make no bones about it — the riverfront liquor license program has been an excellent, effective incentive for New Albany to establish what we’re now referring to as our downtown dining district,” Malysz said.

Restaurants such as La Rosita credited the availability of liquor licenses in the riverfront district as a cause for moving downtown. England and Malysz said expanding the boundary will likely lure other restaurants to downtown New Albany, as they added there are some projects in the works that would benefit from having liquor licenses at the ready.

The benefits of the riverfront development district have “been very good and very profitable” to New Albany, England said.

“It brings people to your downtown, which is very, very important,” he said.

Establishments that receive riverfront liquor licenses are required to serve food.

Councilman Bob Caesar said he will likely vote in favor of expanding the district, but added city planners and officials should be wary of the state’s intentions for approving the riverfront licensing program. He added that while he’s not opposed to patrons safely enjoying an alcoholic beverage, he believes the “city wants to see families with their kids walking out on the street.”

“The need here is restaurants, not more bars,” Caesar said. “This was done so that restaurants could serve liquor, that’s what you want. It does no good at all to have bars that can serve a bratwurst.”

The council must approve the amendment ordinance on three readings to start the process of expanding the district. If the measure moves forward, the New Albany Redevelopment Commission, New Albany Plan Commission and council would then consider a separate resolution to expand the downtown redevelopment plan.

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