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 email@example.com.