University seeks liquor license; neighbors concerned

St. Thomas is taking steps to apply for a permanent liquor license and holding meetings with neighbors to discuss possible objections.

The university wants to have a permanent license so it can serve alcohol at on-campus events without applying for a temporary license each time or having to go through outside caterers.

“It makes sense for financial reasons, and it’s also more efficient,” said Doug Hennes, vice president for university relations. “Depending on the event, it can cost two to three times as much to use outside caterers to supply alcohol at an event like an alumni dinner when our own catering services could easily handle it. A license could save us about $100,000 a year.”

Hennes said St. Thomas needs a liquor license because the law is fuzzy, and it could be legally considered “selling” liquor when people donate money at events and have a glass of wine afterward.

This is St. Thomas’ second attempt to apply for a liquor license.

The first step in the license process is to get “enabling legislation” passed through the Minnesota State Legislature saying it’s OK for St. Thomas to get a license, since non-profits cannot have liquor licenses.

If the legislation passes, the city of St. Paul then has to approve St. Thomas’ request, which can depend on feedback from neighbors.

Last year, St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus was approved for a liquor license, but some neighbors opposed a license for the St. Paul campus. The request was then pulled by state representative Erin Murphy, who submitted the legislation.

The neighbors were concerned that approving the license would lead to increased student drinking at events, but Hennes said student drinking would not be affected.

“Students aren’t usually the ones going to these types of events,” he said. “And they always card very carefully.”

Hennes said that even if the university is granted a liquor license, administrators are not planning on opening an on-campus bar.

“When Scooter’s opened in the 1980s, some people asked if we should have a bar, but the feeling was no because it’s tricky with the laws … and it might send a message that we’re encouraging alcohol consumption on campus,” he said. “We’re making it clear that we’re not [applying for the license] to open a bar.”

But at a Jan. 12 meeting about the proposed license, neighbor Alyssa Rebensdorf said problems caused by student drinking make some neighbors worried about the potential negatives if St. Thomas gets a liquor license.

“This neighborhood is acutely sensitive to anything with students and alcohol, because that’s the rubbing point most of the time in neighbor-student relations,” she said.

“When the college is so densely packed and then it says it wants a license to sell alcohol, we have to ask does this make sense?” she added.

Scott Banas, co-chair of the West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee that discusses issues relating to St. Thomas and neighbors, said there is concern about what a liquor license would represent.

“If the university is saying don’t abuse alcohol and don’t use alcohol if you’re under 21, but at the same time it has a liquor license and is selling it at all kinds of events, some people think it will be looked upon by students as an endorsement to drink,” Banas said. “It seems contradictory.

Hennes said nothing would really change on campus, since events that had alcohol at them in the past would continue to have alcohol. He also said he thinks the number of events with alcohol will not significantly increase. But Rebensdorf said she wasn’t so sure.

“This fine student center has the capacity to hold more events with alcohol,” she said. “We’re skeptical that the student center won’t be expanded to host more of these events.

However, Hennes emphasized that the student center is primarily designed to be a student building, and student activities will receive priority over alumni events or wedding receptions where alcohol could be served.

He added that if the enabling legislation passes, St. Thomas and neighbors will work together to establish conditions for the license. He said these conditions will include rules about where, when and how often alcohol can be sold on campus

St. Thomas’ request will go to the legislature as part of a package. The Minnesota Private College Council will introduce legislation in February that would allow any of the 17 colleges on the council to apply for a liquor license in their respective cities. Hennes said some of the other colleges applying include Macalester, Carleton and St. Mary’s, and Augsburg already has a license.

“The intention of this legislation is not to give alcohol to students, but to help save the university money,” Hennes said.

Katie Broadwell can be reached at

8 Replies to “University seeks liquor license; neighbors concerned”

  1. This seems to be a very benign topic that neighbors are taking issue with.  It seems that many of the problems and friction between St. Thomas and the surrounding community comes from hyper-sensitive neighbors just as much as students.  Things like this and the tennis courts, both of which concern only things taking place on St. Thomas property, should be a non-issue.  The neighbors don’t run it by St. Thomas every time they want to put in a garden, put up a basketball hoop, or hold a party, so the University should not have to clear all of its actions with neighbors.

  2. St. Thomas seeking a liquor license has minimal impact on the St. Paul community. I do not understand why these people feel the need to challenge every move the UST administration makes.

    “If the university is saying don’t abuse alcohol and don’t use alcohol if you’re under 21, but at the same time it has a liquor license and is selling it at all kinds of events, some people think it will be looked upon by students as an endorsement to drink,” Banas said. “It seems contradictory.

    Please show me the connection between obtaining a permanent liquor license to be used for alumni events and the administration condoning alcohol abuse by underage students. If not for this article, the purchase of the permanent license would have gone unnoticed by nearly all St. Thomas students.

  3. I don’t think its so much that the University is required to clear it though neighbors, more so that the University is attempting to be considerate and mesh with its surrounding area. The same can be said when individual families check with their neighbors before putting in a garden or basketball hoop. Its neighborly courtesy to try to keep those that live close to you informed as to your developmental plans. Weather you make good on those plans is not their choice, but as a home owner I understand why one (a person or business) would want to make efforts to keep the peace with its community members. Unfortunately we cant always make everyone happy, and I certainly don’t envy those who are responsible for doing just that. Its a hard job and my hat is off to them.

  4. I agree that St. Thomas should be considerate of the St. Paul community. At the same time, the ever concerned St. Paul community should refrain from going up in arms over administrative decisions that do not concern them.

  5. It seems some neighbors take issue with anything St.Thomas wants to do on its land. Stefan and Ben are right on. Why are tennis courts and this license a concern of these people. A basketball hoop in ones driveway would cause a lot more noise and concern. Should I not put up a hoop if any neighbors, within a sq. mi. of my home, say they don’t want it.

  6. I agree with Stefan. It seems that the neighbors are getting upset about every decision that the University makes. The neighbors need to stop complaining and realize how much St. Thomas benefits their community. Yes, the university should listen to the neighbors concerns, but i do no think they should refrain from getting an alcohol license or from building tennis courts on south campus just because the neighbors oppose.

  7. What’s best for the future of St.Thomas, it’s current and future students, is what St.Thomas should be doing. As stated many times over the years …………..some “neighbors” will oppose anything St.Thomas wants to do. This license is for very limited use. The Tennis Courts are needed and would be a big plus for St.Thomas. Lets get it done.

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