Sidewalk alcohol is hot topic across South DakotaSioux Falls, Brookings, Rapid City allow it; Yankton considering it; Mitchell rejected it Monday
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Sidewalk alcohol service has been a positive addition to downtowns in Rapid City and Sioux Falls, according to officials in the state’s two largest cities.
The Mitchell City Council, after studying the issue for several weeks following a request from the Cornerstone Coffee House & Deli, rejected sidewalk alcohol service Monday. The 7-1 vote, which came after passionate opposition testimony, was a reversal of the council’s initial vote on the proposal March 19.
At least two other South Dakota cities are considering allowing sidewalk alcohol service.
Brookings City Clerk Shari Thornes said the city has allowed such permits since 2008, but no one had applied for it — until this week.
A new business in downtown Brookings applied for the permit, Thornes said. The city handles it as an administrative matter, so it will not go before the council.
“You have to have an alcohol license to qualify,” Thornes said. “This isn’t allowing an alcohol license. This is allowing an established business to expand out into the public right of way.”
If there are no problems with the site plan, the permit will be granted, Thornes said. The city charges a $100 one-time fee for the license, she said.
Yankton Finance Officer Al Viereck said the issue is coming to the fore in his city as well.
“We will be having a discussion at our next meeting,” Viereck said Tuesday. “We could allow it but we have not yet.”
Some restaurant owners have asked the city to permit such service, he said.
In Sioux Falls, sidewalk alcohol service has been permitted for more than two decades, said Brent O’Neil, the economic development coordinator with the Sioux Falls Community Development Department.
“It’s been tremendously popular and a great addition to the downtown environment,” O’Neil said in an e-mail response to Daily Republic questions. “It is one of the first things people mention when they talk about downtown. It keeps the streetscape vibrant.”
He said it has been an evolving situation.
“Like anything, we had to learn along the way,” O’Neil said. “Things like noise (including music), crowd control, garbage control, etc., are all items that we’ve examined in one way or another. However, those items have been minor and relatively easy to address.”
An annual permit for sidewalk service is $35.
Sidewalk service is only allowed in the downtown district, he said. Bars as well as restaurants are allowed to serve booze on the sidewalk.
“The city of Sioux Falls does not have its own food percentage requirement for alcohol, although food service is prevalent,” O’Neil said. “An annual application is required from each establishment for permission to use the sidewalk and extend alcohol service onto the sidewalk.”
Brad Solon, Rapid City’s division manager of building services, said sidewalk café permits, with a one-time $250 fee, are growing in popularity.
“It’s relatively new,” he said. “We’re having some problems and are working through it.”
Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker said sidewalk alcohol sales have worked well.
Some bars and restaurants started serving at sidewalk tables about five years ago and it grew in popularity. That caused some in Rapid City to seek other ways to lure people to its downtown district.
Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender said bars and restaurants started to “creep out” in 2007, and place tables for people to sit on outside and enjoy a drink and something to eat.
It was illegal, Allender said, but it was allowed.
“There’s a load of laws that don’t get enforced,” he said.
In August 2008, the city passed an ordinance to allow businesses to offer sidewalk service.
The launch of the Summer Nights concert series, held on Thursday nights in Rapid City, has proven the popularity of downtown events, Kooiker said.
The concerts began in 2008, and there were about 200 people at the first one. Now, Kooiker said, up to 12,000 people attend the free event.
Beer sales and profits from other concessions pay for the bands, as well as for children’s playgrounds and other entertainment.
An effort to strip the beer license for this summer’s series was defeated after a brief public debate.
The first-term mayor is a non-drinker himself, but he said he takes his three young daughters to the concerts and they have a wonderful time.
“I’ve never seen a problem, I’ve never seen anyone falling down drunk, I’ve never seen any fights,” Kooiker said. “We’re excited to see it grow.”
Allender said there have only been two arrests at the event in the first four years.
Sidewalks vs. property
Carol Logan of the South Dakota Department of Revenue said the state law allowing cities and towns to permit sidewalk alcohol sales was passed in 2008.
The only businesses that can do so must derive at least 50 percent of the gross sales from the sale of prepared food for consumption on the premises, said Logan, the section coordinator for property and special taxes.
Because of that 50 percent food-sales requirement, Sioux Falls may be skirting state law by allowing bars to serve alcohol at sidewalk tables, according to Jason Evans, deputy director of the state Department of Revenue Property and Special Taxes Division.
“I don’t think the sidewalk, the public sidewalk, is part of the legal description,” Evans said. “It would appear that is not allowed under state law. I’ll have to research further to see if there are violations of SDCL Title 35.”
Businesses that own property outside their walls can serve alcohol outside on that owned property. Alcohol can be served on a patio or other outdoor area if it is part of the physical property.
In Mitchell, at least eight bars or restaurants permit people to sit outside and drink alcohol.
The Scoreboard provides such service, as does Big Dummy’s and the Longhorn Bar, which have a shared open space between them.
Signatures, Ruby Tuesday’s and Blarney’s Sports Bar also offer outdoor alcohol service. Thirsty’s and Village Bowl added smoking areas when the statewide ban on smoking inside public places took effect in 2010, and drinking is allowed in those areas, Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg said.
“A number of them went to some sort of outdoor setting,” Overweg said. “It cannot be a parking lot. You have to make sure it’s part of your licensed premise.”
The Rev. Carroll Torberson, of the Grace Baptist Church in Mitchell, was one of six speakers opposed to sidewalk alcohol sales at Monday night’s council meeting. He said while he opposes sidewalk service, he has no problem with the businesses that serve alcohol in outdoor settings on their own property.
“Every one of those is a different issue,” he said. “It’s not the same as having a kid walking by on the side-walk and seeing a drink out there.
“Put it in the backyard and let them drink it out there if they’re going to do it,” Torberson said. “The idea of setting it out on the sidewalk is just more than we need.”
Mitchell Main Street & Beyond had planned to unveil a program to provide 50 percent of the cost of side-walk café infrastructure up to $1,000. The funds would have been available to purchase tables, chairs, and window signage to advertise a sidewalk café.
Businesses could also have applied for revolving loan funds to cover the remaining 50 percent of the cost. No one from MMS&B attended the council meeting. In fact, no one spoke out in favor of sidewalk alcohol service.
Mitchell Main Street & Beyond Board President Marty Cunningham said the MMS&B board will discuss the issue at a meeting Wednesday.
Cunningham said he was “surprised” by the council’s vote, but isn’t sure if a delegation from the group would have made any difference. “I don’t know if they were willing to listen,” he said.
The person who brought the issue to the fore said she considers it a dead issue. Geri Beck, the co-owner of the Cornerstone and a former member of the council, said she has no plans to ask the city to revisit the issue.
“I’ll let it go,” Beck said.
She said if it had passed, the business would have applied for a permit. But Beck said she understands the council’s vote.
“I’ve sat at that table, when you have pastors show up at that forum, it’s tough to say no,” she said.
Beck said she also believes if the council had passed it, the opponents would have gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot and very likely defeat it.
While the South Dakota cities that allow sidewalk service have reported it works well, the people who op-posed it in Mitchell and talked the council into rejecting it are proud of their stance.
“The City Council listened,” Torberson said. “Those men up there, they said it was something they had not thought of before.”
He said he’s proud to have led efforts to reduce access to alcohol in the city.
“The general attitude in our community kind of saddens me,” Torberson said. “It seems the city just bends over backwards to open access to alcohol. You don’t have to buy alcohol 24 hours a day.”
While he doesn’t drink and said in his version of a perfect world, no one would, he doesn’t plan to lead an effort to ban booze in Mitchell.
“We’re not going to enforce prohibition,” Torberson said.