The Minocqua Town Board approved last week, on a 3-2 vote, the purchase of a Class B liquor license from the town of Fifield for $10,000.
The Fifield Town Board had anticipated possible action by Minocqua when it approved, at its Nov. 2 meeting, the transfer of one of three reserve Class B liquor licenses it possessed to Minocqua.
That action was contingent upon what the Minocqua Town Board did at its Nov. 7 meeting, if any.
The thinking behind the purchase of the license, the money for it to come from the town's contingency portion of its budget, is Minocqua will have something to offer a bar or a restaurant business with intentions to sell alcohol.
Town clerk Roben Haggart said Thursday she was made aware of changes in state law regarding the capability of towns to offer extra Class B liquor licenses to a neighboring municipality in May.
Going into last week's meeting, Minocqua had a total of 60 liquor licenses, 30 of them of the Class B variety for restaurants and bars.
Added property value
Haggart told the town board at last week's meeting the town has, over the course of the past few months, been receiving calls inquiring whether it has any Class B licenses available as there are commercial properties along U.S. Highway 51 in downtown Minocqua for sale.
One of those is the building that's housed Island City Ice Cream.
"I had some time and I reached out to some of these municipalities," she said. "Fifield was very interested."
"How many can we get?" supervisor John Thompson asked.
"Three," Haggart said.
"Three?" Thompson asked again.
"$10,000 each," town chairman Mark Hartzheim said.
"But we could pass the cost down to a potential applicant or people in charge," Haggart said. "We can't make money on it."
The maximum the town could charge is the $10,000.
Thompson was in favor.
"You think about some of these bigger places, let's say, for example, an Olive Garden," he said. "They're not gonna come, they're not gonna invest and not be able to have a full license. That's why I say that's something to attract a place, a certain kind of business. I don't know. I'm just saying, someone wants to build whatever but they need a license ..."
"And you, as a board, would decide what to do with it," Haggart said.
"They (Fifield) would charge a fee?" Thompson asked.
"They can charge up to $10,000," Haggart said. "And they would charge $10,000."
Hartzheim, noting a license would add value to a property and the town hasn't budgeted for this sort of expense, said the town board could do nothing on this and stay with the number of Class B licenses the town has or to get one of the licenses from Fifield, hold it and "if an opportunity comes along that the board feels would really benefit the community economically from a business or employment standpoint, they would have one sort of ready."
"I assume the reason they (Fifield) have a quota or a limit is to try to protect the people who are in that business from the pie getting sliced too small," he said.
Thompson pushed for the purchase of all three Class B licenses Fifield had available.
"We should take all three," he said. "It's kind of like making a land investment. You buy it and you're gonna hold onto it and hopefully ... obviously, we're not doing it to make money but I'm saying it's to do something that fits well here and you have that opportunity and you don't have someone come in and say, 'We're gonna go to ... Fifield.'"
'It's an investment'
Supervisor Billy Fried asked Haggart if the license would stay with the town and not be something the town of Fifield could come back later and attempt to reclaim.
"This is new," Haggart said. "I talked to the guy at the state several times ... it would stay with us. It would become our license and they (Fifield) would have one less."
Supervisor Bill Stengl, who eventually voted with Hartzheim against the proposal, said he didn't see any type of development in Minocqua as far as new bars and restaurants.
"I mean, they're all struggling to stay open with what they have," he said.
Fried said based on what Haggart said, it sounded like there had been some interest expressed.
"I wouldn't be opposed to entertaining looking at acquiring at least one," he said. "We have the discretion on how it goes out."
Thompson held up three fingers and Fried picked up on it.
"I'm open to three, too ..." he began.
"It's an investment," Thompson said. "It's an investment in the future, not necessarily for us."
"We've lost some really good restaurants in this town over the years I've lived here," supervisor Sue Heil said. "I don't think it would hurt to bring a few back."
"That's exactly what I'm saying," Thompson said. "You know, maybe they won't get issued for 10 years but you have the opportunity ... it's an investment. You don't get paid a dividend on an investment the next day or a year. You save 'em and use them to attract something or someone."
"You have to have them to attract someone," Heil said.
"You can't say, 'Oh, we'll work on getting you one,'" he said. "That's ... you get 'em and you have it. It's like land we've bought. They don't make it anymore. I think it would be a mistake. If they're willing to give us more than one or buy more than one and they want 10 grand apiece, that's kind of chump change compared to what you could get from it, gain from it in the future."
When it came time to vote on a motion made by Thompson and seconded by Heil to purchase a Class B liquor license from the town of Fifield, however, Stengl and Hartzheim weren't convinced, voting against.
"The board is going to be hard pressed to hold onto this license because there's going to be tremendous pressure to assign this license immediately," Hartzheim said. "I told the clerk there's going to be a frenzy and it's going to be very difficult to sit up here and tell a bunch of people 'No, because you're not what we're looking for.'"
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at email@example.com.