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Liquor licenses could grow with population

With a growing population, the city of Dickinson could grant additional liquor licenses, but figuring out who is entitled to them is proving to be a tricky process.

After local entrepreneur Jayne Ridl, who is aspiring to open a nightclub, requested the City Commission issue an additional on/off sale liquor license due to population gain, city officials have began mulling over just how to go about it.

No additional on/off sale licenses can be granted until the population reaches an estimated 18,000 people, according to city ordinance.

While official U.S. Census results are still being tabulated, Ridl cited a report from engineering firm Ulteig as estimating the population to be slightly more than 18,000.

The city, however, has no procedure to distribute the license among others that may want to access it as well.

City Administrator Shawn Kessel said he checked into policies and precedence of cities similar in size to Dickinson, and found it difficult to find any.

Williston, which is experiencing growth similar or greater than Dickinson's, does not have an alcohol license issue.

Kessel said after speaking with Williston officials, they are not issuing new liquor licenses.

Kessel said he also contacted West Fargo, a community that has experienced growth in the last five years, and the West Fargo does not limit the number of liquor licenses as "they issue them as they see fit."

"They also aren't in a similar boat as the city of Dickinson simply because they do not limit the on and off sale license that they issue," Kessel said. "Since we do limit ours, we create a monopoly of sorts for those liquor license owners."

Kessel said he is not aware of other cities that have added an additional liquor license due to population gain.

"So finding a process or replicating a process was difficult," he said.

Questions also surround one presently held liquor license.

The Evil Olive Pizzeria & Bar holds the former Queen City Club's liquor license, which was initially issued outside of city limits and later annexed into the city.

However, that license is non-transferrable as city ordinance requires it stay with that location.

If the establishment were no longer it be a liquor establishment, the license would be eliminated, according to city ordinance.

Kessel said as he sees it, the city has four options available to address the matters.

The first would be to leave the Queen City Club/Evil Olive Pizzeria & Bar license as is and add a 16th license based on population growth.

A second option would be to eliminate the Queen City Club license as it presently exists and then not issue another license based on population gain.

"You could say, based on our population gain ... we'll just simply elevate the Queen City Club license to a regular on/off sale license," Kessel said.

A third option would be to eliminate the Queen City Club/Evil Olive license, grant it full privileges and issue an additional license based on population gain, effectively increasing from 15 on/off sale licenses to 17.

The last option would be for the Commission to not recognize a population gain along with leaving the Queen City Club license as is.

Jason Polanchek, an owner of the Evil Olive, requested the city change his liquor license to that of a movable one.

Polanchek said having a movable license makes a business more valuable if it were to be sold.

However, the question remains on how to fairly issue the additional liquor license.

Kessel said the city could advertise they would be issuing an additional license and interested parties would need to submit information to be prequalified along with a written bid.

After being prequalified, entrants would then be entered into an auction.

"All interested parties who have been prequalified have the right to submit and improve bids during that auction," Kessel said.

The city could then use the highest written bid as the auction's starting point, he said.

All bids would be then be submitted to the City Commission to award the license.

"What that does is recognize the fact that the highest bidder may not be the best bidder," Kessel said. "There may be other factors that go into awarding a liquor license that move beyond simple dollars."

The last recommendation would require the awarded bidder to have an operational business within one year.

City Commissioner Gene Jackson said he is not sure about auction procedures.

"I'd rather see us take proposals that are not price-based," Jackson said. "I'd like to see what kind of projects are out there and shortlist those projects," he said, adding a lottery procedure could also be an option.

Kessel anticipates discussing the matter at a July 6 City Commission meeting.