Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, July 31, 2000

Howard Lake citizens heard on Sand Bar purchase

By Andrea Vargo

The city council listened to a very vocal public and canceled its idea about purchasing the Sand Bar and Grill as a new home for the city's on-sale liquor business.

Despite the early 7 a.m special meeting time, last Monday, more than 40 residents and business owners filled the council chambers to state their objections to the purchase of the property.

Mayor Gerry Smith opened with a recap of the sequence of events that led up to the special meeting.

He said, on June 26 at a special council meeting, the council decided to investigate the possibility of the purchase of the Sand Bar and Grill for city use.

Smith said, "We met with department heads (to discuss the idea)."

Then, an informational portion of the regular July 18 meeting was announced in the Herald, Smith said.

At the regular meeting, Smith gave a presentation on the information the city had at that time about needed space at the city hall and about the results of other cities moving or remodeling liquor stores.

Comments heard by the council at the July 18 meeting resulted in the issue being tabled until the council had time to digest those comments, Smith said.

The city offices need more space. It would be to the city's advantage to expand the liquor operation, if the results other cities have had are any indication, he said.

After the recap of events by Smith, the meeting was opened to comments from the public.

Vern Kleve said he was opposed at the Tuesday meeting, and he is still opposed to the idea.

The city shouldn't be in direct competition with private enterprise, he said.

Also, the city did not include projections of the cost of operations and income for the on-sale business at the Sand Bar location, he said.

If it doesn't work, the city is imposing a new tax on the people, because the liquor operation would pay the difference, instead of the money going into the general fund, as it does now, Kleve said.

With the new water tower to be paid for and a proposed new high school, Kleve felt the city residents already had enough to pay for.

Smith replied that he understood the concern about a lack of financial projections.

He also stated the intent was for no new taxes to support the business.

John Deitering felt three weeks of investigation and discussion is just not enough time to determine if this is the right decision for the city.

"There are so many unanswered questions," he said.

One question is whether the city should even be in the liquor business, Deitering said.

"How could you make it work, when the former owners failed?" he asked.

"In your presentation," Darrell Main said, "you had five towns that moved and made a profit.

"How many (towns) lost money? Where does it go if it doesn't fly? You say everything is going to be no new taxes, but that won't happen, if it doesn't work. Taxpayers will pick it up," he said.

"We talked to professional people that are in the liquor store business," Smith said.

No cities in Minnesota remodeled or moved and went out of business, he said.

Fran Wren said, "We have a business in Silver Lake that lost money for five years, and Buffalo and Maple Lake quit the liquor business (on-sale)."

Jean Schmidt said the meeting of the 22nd, where the purchase of the Sand Bar was discussed, was a special meeting. There were two items on the agenda, and the Sand Bar was not one of them. It was added at the beginning of the meeting.

If the public knew about it, she felt the reaction would have been apparent to the council sooner.

"This building (community center and library) is in desperate need of (expansion). It is used by more people in a more productive way (than the on-sale)," she said.

John Lideen told the council, "We hear things and we react. I find it hard to believe there isn't a cheaper way. The city had five possibilities (for more city space) at the last meeting. There have to be more ways."

The council took time to respond to the various remarks.

Councilman Don Danford said, "I've been at Mayo (Clinic) for the last six weeks and have been outside looking in. The idea, at first, was to investigate the possibilities. I'm disappointed people jumped the gun."

A lot of what has been going on has been misconstrued, he said.

"We are here to do what the city wants," Danford said.

"Last meeting, I sat and listened," Councilman John Swanson said.

"There is a need for space at the city hall, and, as Don said, this is just another thought," Swanson said.

Also, he felt the banquet facilities at the Sand Bar might have made some additional money for the city.

He felt the cost of purchasing one of the older homes on Highway 12, as suggested at a previous meeting, is not financially practical for the city.

"There is no cloak and dagger here," he said.

Swanson was upset that people had made threatening phone calls, when there are other alternatives to communicating with council people.

"If this does not go through, we still need space. If the public wants a new building, it would cost twice as much (as the Sand Bar). Maybe it does need more study," he said.

Smith said "We have made a promise (when we were elected) to listen to the residents."

"Comments made behind our backs, when someone threatens a person's business and livelihood, it is degrading to a community," Smith stated.

"We have listened to emotional points, no factual points. This council will always do the best thing for this town in its entirety," he said.

Danford suggested the council "table the idea and just let it go by."

He felt the council should find other ways to deal with the space problem.

The mayor took a roll call of the council, and each member stated his position.

Councilman Shelly Reddemann voted to table the purchase. He felt the council needed time to study the situation, knowing it had to do something.

Swanson voted to table the purchase. Without figures on potential profit, (impact on) private businesses, or moving off Highway 12, he felt the idea needed more investigation.

The teen center, which is above the liquor store, needs to be moved from the liquor store area and the "bar flies," according to Swanson.

Councilman Tom Kutz also voted to table the issue, but he told the gathering that the bank put the council "under the gun to get done as soon as possible."

The $400,000 the council was to pay for the property was not the discounted price that is usually given on a bankrupt property, he said.

"We are back to square one on the city hall (space) issue," said Danford.

This has been an ongoing issue since he moved here four years ago, Danford said.

Looking at the early morning crowd, Danford said, "This is involvement."

"We need people to be proactive. Please give us your opinions before the fact," he said.

Smith said, "I agree with the rest. I just want you to understand we are going to listen. We are going to have to solve the space problems, one way or another."

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