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License for beer garden OK'd, other request is not

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

After the Vandalia City Council approved Vandalia Main Street’s request for a one-day liquor license, it chose not to act on a request for a permanent license submitted by an individual planning to open a sandwich shop.

The council voted 5-3 to OK Main Street’s request for a license that will allow the organization to operate a beer garden during its new SummerFest in July.

After that vote, a request for the addition of a full liquor license submitted by Dennis Gates, who plans to open a sandwich shop on North Fourth Street in the former home of Quiznos, died for lack of a motion.

Prior to vote on the Main Street request, the organization’s president, Steve Barker, and its vice president, Josh Henry, told aldermen that they had made changes to their original plans for a beer garden, ones that they believe will help to prevent any problems or community opposition.

Henry said the site of the beer garden had been changed from the 100 block of South Sixth Street to the 100 block of South Fifth Street, to move it further away from First Baptist Church.

He said the organization has made a “very conservative estimate” of 1,000 for the crowd for SummerFest, which is set for Saturday, July 17. The new festival will also include a car show and cruise on Gallatin Street, a barbecue, musical performers (both local groups and musicians well-known in this region) and a variety of family-oriented activities.

Barker told the council that Main Street has also taken steps to improve the security for the beer garden, explaining that a law enforcement training company in Northern Illinois has agreed to man the garden. He also said the bartenders “will be older, responsible adults who will not be drinking.”

He said Main Street will allow beer only in the beer garden area and will set up a double fence to prevent individuals from handing beer to others outside the garden.

Henry said Main Street is projecting that the event will have a $48,000 impact on the community, with that figure including sales of gas and food, but not including sales at downtown businesses.

The SummerFest, Barker said, “could grow into a two-day event, and it could be a real boost to our economy.

“We have a lot of things that we want to do for the downtown, and they cost money,” Barker said. “And this is a way to raise money.”

However, he said, “The beer garden is a small part of the overall event.”

Three people in the audience voiced their opposition to the beer garden.

Dave Hall, who had submitted a letter in opposition to the garden prior to the meeting, said that while he applauds Main Street’s work in the community, and that he likes activities planned for the festival, he doesn't support the beer garden.

“My only concern is the image of Vandalia. Just the fact of having alcohol downtown, in a beer garden, is not the kind of image that I really want as a citizen of Vandalia,” Hall said.

Robert Francisco said that he agrees with Hall.

“To have a beer tent in the downtown area during a social situation presents the wrong image to young people, that in order

 have to have beer.”

Melvin Huber presented similar arguments.

Huber said he also is pleased with what Main Street works to do for Vandalia, but he’s already seen evidence of outside alcohol sales growing in subsequent years, with security and financial benefit to the community decreasing.

He said there’s sufficient proof of problems with youth and alcohol, and he believes that a beer garden “sets a very poor image.

“It seems like we can get a liquor license easier than we can get a job,” Huber said.

Mike Hobler, one of three alderman voting against Main Street’s request, said he believes that a beer garden could be operated better in a wide-open area, such as the fairgrounds.

Dean Black, who also voted against the request, questioned whether all local bar owners had been contacted and were supporting the event.

The third dissenting vote was cast by Jerry Swarm. Voting for the request were Bret Brosman, Larry Bennett, Larry Cable, Lisa McNutt and Andy Lester.

Prior to voting, Lester said. “I know there are some of you who are opposed to it, and I respect that.

“I think Main Street has presented a responsible plan for their event,” he said.

As to the request submitted by Gates, the council was voting on whether to increase the number of licenses allowing for the sale of all types of alcohol. If an additional license were created, it would be up to the mayor, as the city’s liquor commissioner, to decide whether the license would be issued.

Several alderman questioned Gates on the type of business he plans to operate.

Asked by Cable whether the majority of sales would be from alcohol or food, Gates said, “Food, I’d say.” He estimated that 75 percent of his total sales would be from food.

Hall voiced his opposition to Gates’ request, saying, “My daughter’s dance studio is only about 40 yards away.” He said that while a liquor store is also close to that studio, it does not allow alcohol to be consumed on the premises.

Huber said, “Why he is not calling it a bar instead of a restaurant?,” and several aldermen seemed to agree.

Hobler said, “We already have two taverns operating under the premise of a restaurant.”

Bennett said, “My picture of a restaurant is a place that you could take your family to and have a drink if you want, not go in and drink and have maybe pickled eggs or something else on the side.”

Lester, too, said he was a little confused about the situation.

“I’m seeing some cloudiness between the definition of a bar and a restaurant,” Lester said. “I’d be more inclined to think of a beer and wine situation for Mr. Gates.”

When Gottman asked for a motion on Gates’ request, there was no response.

Also at the meeting, Gottman announced that 19 individuals have applied for the city administrator position, which will become vacant on April 16, when Jimmy Morani leaves for a similar job in New Baden.

The mayor set a meeting for 5 p.m. on April 6 at which he and aldermen will review the applications and narrow the field of candidates. He hopes to being interviewing finalists the next week.