Cheers Finney County: Proponents tout ballot initiative’s benefits

Brochures created for the Nov. 6 ballot initiative that proposes eliminating a food requirement for businesses that serve alcohol.

By SCOTT AUST, FCEDC Director of Communications

During Tuesday’s Noon Lion’s Club meeting, former Garden City Commissioner Chris Law talked about his support for a ballot measure that will change liquor by the drink rules in Finney County to get rid of a percentage-based food requirement for establishments that serve alcohol.

Law and other community members are promoting the “Cheers Finney County – Vote Yes Campaign” ballot initiative.

On Nov. 6, Finney County voters will get to decide whether to eliminate a food sales requirement on businesses that offer liquor by the drink. Currently, businesses that sell liquor by the drink are mandated to have 30 percent or their revenue come from food sales.

With the growth of craft brewing and distilling, the goal is to open the playing field for these new industries in Finney County.

“Times have changed. This type of establishment isn’t going to be the kind that results in people being there all day and overindulging, let’s say,” Law said. “All the other laws in place for liquor and the location of liquor (businesses) applies — zoning, state liquor licenses. There’s a lot of control that cities and counties have.”

Law said he became interested in the issue in late 2016 after becoming aware that Ford County passed a similar ballot initiative that has since allowed Dodge City to have a brewery and a distillery without requiring food. Law wondered why Garden City wasn’t doing the same. Finney County Economic Development Corp. was tapped to research the issue including potential impacts.

Here are some facts based on that research:

  • In recent years, more than 21 craft breweries and distilleries have been founded in Kansas
  • Small format brewers and distillers are interested in opening but are not interested in operating full-scale restaurants
  • Voting to eliminate the food requirement will allow craft brewers, wine bars and distillers to open, creating more economic activity in the community
  • Kansas is well-suited to these entrepreneurs due to abundant grain crops
  • 33 counties currently allow liquor by the drink with no food requirement
  • Over the past 30 years, 13 counties have removed the food requirement, including Barton, Crawford, Douglas, Edwards, Ellis, Geary, Ford, Leavenworth, Lyon, Riley, Saline, Shawnee and Wyandotte.
  • Data shows that crime rates did not increase in those counties following the change; in fact, violent and property crime rates actually dropped in those counties.

Law said he believes it should be, and will be, good for the local economy to pass the measure to remove the food requirement.

“I’m in favor of this, but it’s a question for the people of the county, not just me. My biggest thing is let’s let the people decide because I don’t see any problem with it,” he said.

No Increased Crime

Law said one of the bigger questions he had about the potential impact of removing the food requirement was whether it would lead to increased crime. Based on statistics from other counties who made the change, removing the food requirement did not lead to an increase in crime.

“I was just blown away with the results. Of the counties who were studied…the type of crime that would be related to this was down. That really surprised me,” he said. “Another thing is the moral question here. I don’t advocate for willy-nilly drunkenness, obviously, but this is not that.”

Moreover, based on talking with folks, Law feels it will be a benefit and will be attractive to people who want to open a ‘tap room’ type business without needing to deal with the issues of running a restaurant.

“This lets people make their own decisions and gets government out of the deal some, and that’s good I think,” Law said.

Sean Collins, a Lions Club member, agreed. Collins noted that a few years ago he had investors lined up who were looking at opening a brewery downtown but couldn’t because of the food requirement.

“This is the exact reason why it fell through. Opening up a restaurant is an entirely different beast,” Collins said, adding that the community missed out on having a nice, well-run brewery establishment downtown.

Important for Business

FCEDC President and CEO Lona DuVall pointed out that more recently an individual had actually signed a lease to open a downtown wine bar before learning about the 30 percent food requirement which meant they couldn’t open.

“It’s harder to hit your 30 percent food requirement when you’re selling a more expensive beverage, too. It really does create some hurdles that I don’t think need to be there,” she said.

DuVall said the issue is an important one for local business and economic development to resolve.

“There are opportunities, not just for folks who want to come to the community, but for people already within the community. We have some very talented brewers in the community who would like to do tap houses but are not interested in a full menu and all of the staffing that goes into that. We do think there will be some economic opportunity as a result,” she said.