The issue of liquor restrictions for restaurants in the Historic Downtown District is back on the table for discussion after two bills were introduced at the Feb. 4 City Council meeting.
In 2018, St. Charles city officials passed an ordinance that mandated restaurants located along North Main Street had to provide proof that at least 50% of their gross income was derived from food sales. The law went into effect January 2019. The goal was to lessen instances of public intoxication, aloud noise and underage drinking.
On Feb. 4, the city council discussed amending those liquor control ordinances by providing for the expiration of points, established in 2018 and assessed against various bars and restaurants, after 12 months and creating a Liquor Commission and a Liquor License Appeal Board to amend the approach of punishing institutions in violation of the law.
Another proposed ordinance would eliminate the food sales requirement, established in 2018, and provide no more than four liquor licenses in the Frenchtown Commercial Historic District.
Mayor Dan Borgmeyer explained that under the current point system, points can be assessed by the police chief, the director of finance and the director of development. If a restaurant does not agree with the assessment, it can appeal.
“But you appeal back to the same three people,” Borgmeyer said. “There’s so much in the current ordinance that’s antiquated, doesn’t make sense, or was done in a reactionary mode in 2018 when the problem existed. Those problems don’t exist anymore.”
According to Borgmeyer, four main institutions that created concerns over liquor control in 2018 were all surpassing the 50% sales mandate for food.
Borgmeyer said those businesses had not been audited “one time in 12 years and there was never a problem until 2018. That problem didn’t have anything to do with food because those bars and restaurants were doing the same thing they’d done all along. In 2018, it became a problem because of the music, because of the bar culture … and that’s all been cleared up. It didn’t have anything to do with food. It had to do with behavior and process.”
However, others contend that the liquor restrictions enacted in 2018 are specifically what reduced alcohol-related crimes on Main Street and attracted retail businesses to the corridor.
Randy Schilling, CEO and founder of OPO Startups, a co-working center located on Main Street, spoke in favor of the 2018 and food sales mandate at the Feb. 4 meeting. Schilling owns nine buildings on South Main, all in the city’s historic district. He also sits on Special District Advisory Board for the city of St. Charles.
“As a member of the Special Business District, we review the monthly crime reports from the police department. They’re there every month, and there’s been a dramatic reduction in crime. I think we all know that,” Schilling said.
Penny Pitman, who spoke at the Feb. 4 meeting as a representative for the Historic Downtown Association, agreed.
“We no longer see videos of people beating each other up or fights in the garage,” Pitman said.
Schilling also cited the fact that Main Street has seen a “large increase in retail activity” since 2018, with some new businesses including a general store, a bakery and more.
“It’s extremely unfair to property and business owners who have followed the rules to have to disregard them with the changes,” Schilling said.
However, Borgmeyer cited other measures as the source of the decrease in crime and alcohol-related conflicts.
“We send police down at closing time to disperse crowds. We’ve put lights in that area so bright you can see through your eyelids. I have regular meetings with the bars, who have all been extremely cooperative,” Borgmeyer said.
Borgmeyer expressed concern that mandating a certain amount of food sales could also force law-abiding institutions to close.
“There are one or two other bars where they don’t have any points or other violations, but if they’re not selling 50% food, the council says ‘You must be a problem, we have to pull your license,’” Borgmeyer said. “It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”