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Dickinson liquor license a hot commodity

After a local entrepreneur approached Dickinson for a liquor license, city officials have spent several months deciphering how to issue an additional one and it appears it will come down to a bidding process.

A revamped liquor license ordinance will undergo a first reading during a City Commission meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

Dickinson resident Jayne Ridl is vying to open a nightclub and after doing her homework, she found a section in city ordinance stipulating the City Commission could issue an additional on/off sale license once the population reaches 18,000 people.

But the city's uncharted territory has put Ridl's dreams on hold since the spring while officials hammer out a new policy.

If the new ordinance is adopted, the city would notify the public of its intent to grant an additional on/off sale license by sealed bids, according to the drafted ordinance.

"The city reserves the right to reject any and all bids, to waive any informalities in the bidding process or any bid received and to accept any bid which, in sole judgment of the City Commission, is in the city's best interest," according to the draft ordinance.

During previous meetings, liquor license holders said they felt any further licenses should be issued via a bid process to keep things fair.

Some felt issuing additional licenses would harm existing businesses.

There are also a few others who want to acquire it.

Presently, 16 on/off sale liquor licenses exist in Dickinson, one of which is a non-movable license belonging to the Evil Olive Pizzeria & Bar.

Jason Fridrich, who represented Liquid Assets at an Aug. 2 City Commission meeting, felt $100,000 was a fair price, according to city minutes.

After speaking with existing license holders, City Administrator Shawn Kessel said the price range for obtaining a license was anywhere from $125,000 to $200,000.

Some license holders purchased their licenses from previous businesses.

"You want somebody who has the financial wherewithal to get the license so that they also have the financial wherewithal to make the business work," Kessel said. "If they're trying to start something from scratch (it) is going to take some time to develop a clientele ... so there's going to be a lot more expenses for a new business starting up than for an existing business that has an established clientele. And if they can't afford a license, the next logical question would be can they afford to carry a business until they can develop a clientele?"

Ridl feels bidding baselines shouldn't be based on past license purchases nor is the price conducive to an entrepreneur.

"Why would you want me to be in the hole $100,000," Ridl asked. "It shouldn't be who's got the most money to start a business."

The annual fee for a local commercial on/off sale license is $2,845, according to city documents.

"What it's worth is what somebody should get it for, but I know that's not reality," Ridl said.

Ridl has plans drawn up and a construction company ready to go, but cannot move forward until the license issue is figured out.

If she isn't able to obtain the license, Ridl said she would move the endeavor to a different location.

West Fargo, a city with similar growth to Dickinson, has an unlimited number of liquor licenses, but "It is possibly going to be changing," said Lori Sall, West Fargo administrative associate. "We just had two more bars open up within 10 blocks of one another."

With 27 on/off sale licenses issued, the most pricey liquor license in West Fargo are $1,500, Sall said.

Karri Motl, who handles accounts payable and liquor licenses for the city of Mandan, said the city has 17 on/off sale licenses for bars, 15 of which are in use and the remaining two are for sale.

The average price tag for an on/off sale liquor license in Mandan is $3,100, Motl said.

If more than one business is vying for the license, they are issued on a first-come first-serve basis, Motl said.

"I've been here for 26 years and we've never had any problem with more than one person wanting one," Motl said.

"As an entrepreneur you're hoping that you're dreams and expectations will go, but there is reality and you're hoping that the city of Dickinson will back you up," Ridl said. "The city is just driving young entrepreneurs away."