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Planning moves ahead with alcohol ordinance

By Staff | Dec 20, 2017

The Planning Commission approved an amendment to the City of Sanibel code regarding performing arts centers and live performance theaters to be able to sell alcoholic beverages without the sale of food.

Commissioner Chris Heidrick made the motion to approve ordinance 17-0012, but amend the definition of performing arts centers and live performance theaters by striking the word “primarily” from the definition. The motion also included the adoption of 17-020. It passed unanimously. Commissioner Chuck Ketterman was absent.

The ordinance will go before the City Council with the Planning Commis-sion’s recommendation to pass.

Planning Director James Jordan said the ordinance is for the sale of liquor without food at performing arts centers, or live performance theaters. The change in language was presented to the Planning Commission due to an application submitted by BIG ARTS.

“Any performing arts center, any live theater would be able to qualify for the liquor license without having the prerequisite to sell food,” he said.

Commissioner Karen Storjorhann said she was concerned about the ordinance, especially since BIG ARTS recently entered into a contract that covers the ability to serve liquor at performances.

“We have to have a state license in order to sell and we have to have the accommodation from the city in order to get the state license,” Ralph Clark, director of BIG ARTS, said.

Storjorhann said she would hate to have ordinances in effect that would only apply to one entity because it does not strike her as good governance.

She initially favored the contract as an experiment.

“I viewed it as that, an experiment,” Storjorhann said. “As part of a contract, if something doesn’t work out to meet everybody’s best expectations of what this is going to be, it can be very easily taken care of. If we make it an ordinance, it is not easily taken care of. My concern is serving alcohol without food, the fact that there is a restaurant down the block, is not compelling. We do have issues with parking there. There has been confirmations in the parking lot already. I’m very concerned about having this as an ordinance before having data points on how this experiment will change things at BIG ARTS and the dynamic that is happening here.”

The Sanibel Community Association contacted the city manager the night before the Tuesday meeting to request an amendment to the proposed ordinance because they are seeking a similar type of license.

“The issue they have with this particular ordinance, if it passes, is the word primarily in the definition,” Jordan said.

The drafted language states that a performing arts center has not less than 200 seats and a live performance theater has not less than 100 seats. Both are owned and operated by a not-for-profit corporation.

In terms of a performing arts center, it is “used and occupied primarily to promote the development and appreciation of any and all of the performing, visual, or fine arts, including fine arts-based activities and events intended to entertain, educate and cultivate the public’s appreciation, enjoyment, and knowledge of fine arts.”

The live performance theater states it would be “used and occupied primarily to produce and present live performances of plays, concerts, musicals, dance, opera, lectures, including motion pictures, and other categories of the fine, performing and visual arts.”

Jordan said their recommendation is that the language proceed as drafted and if SCA or some other 501c3 wants to amend that language, they work on it separately and independent.

“The application is one submitted by BIG ARTS. Two, I think they want to stay on track without any hesitation, or delay on the application. We are looking out for the applicant who has made the financial commitment. I think it should be up to them, rather than the application get hindered because the request to change language,” he said, adding that they are OK with striking the word “primarily.”

Heidrick said this ordinance does not clear the path entirely, all it does it allows that organization to apply for a liquor license with the state.

Jordan said before the state signs off on a permit for one of these types of facilities, they are going to ask for local, permitted zoning sign off on the application.

“Currently, we cannot do that be-cause our code is pretty clear. You have to have food sales as a prerequisite. So, this does open the door, if you will, of how the state interprets it,” he said.

Clark said they have been serving alcoholic beverages for many years as part of performances at Schein Hall and the Strauss Theatre. He said at Schein Hall they give away alcoholic beverages.

“Giving it away, we are motivated heavily to make it cheap,” Clark said. “This has been going on for many years. We have never had a problem of over serving, or anything of that nature.”

Last year BIG ARTS instituted a new capability, the Platinum Club, enabling patrons to buy seasonal tickets to all musical events and attending a cocktail party before each performance. Last year approximately 50 people joined the Platinum Club.

“One of the reasons we do this is for cultivation. To get to know new people and bring them into the organization. To have them become donors,” Clark said.

As a result, BIG ARTS increased their Angel Donors, $1,000 a year membership, and their ticket sales went up 21 percent last year. This year the Platinum Club reached 100 people.

“What we would like to do is be able to move from giving away the beverages to selling the beverages,” Clark said. “For several reasons, one of which is a revenue source. The intent is to be able to broaden the capability from this Platinum Club to our attendees in general and improve the quality of beverages we offer.”

Chairman Phillip Marks said it is a lot cleaner, in regards to approving the ordinance, to deal with just BIG ARTS.

“I think other people would like to coattail on you and get it for free. You have given us good reasons why you would like to have it changed. Probably a higher quality wine. Secondly, there might be some organization that really doesn’t meet all the criteria that BIG ARTS does. They did it why can’t we? I think, for me, it’s cleaner to vote on just your application. Once this ordinance is in, I think the other people can have a shorter form, or maybe a less expensive price to pay,” Marks said.

Bill Sartoris, Sanibel Community Association president, said they went to the state of Florida last March to try and obtain a liquor license. He said the state said under one of the four provisions of liquor license SCA would qualify. With that news they went to the city, which resulted in finding out that the ordinance had to be changed.

“We started the process of trying to get the ordinance changed. For one reason or another things got delayed,” Sartoris said. “There was some talks of insurance requirements for the city for an entity of retaining a liquor license. Talks with several of the City Council members individually, they had no problem with the SCA having a liquor license, except for insurance and liability.”

When SCA holds special events, it currently obtains a one-day liquor license and a permit from the city.

“We met with BIG ARTS board members and said let’s go into this jointly, let’s share the costs. They said no, they did not want to do that,” Sartoris said.

When looking over the wording in the ordinance, he said there was really only one thing that is different than the definition of the state – the word “primarily.” Sartoris said SCA is asking that the word primarily be taken out of the ordinance to keep it consistent with the state.

Clark said there is no animosity from BIG ARTS with SCA.

“We collaborate with SCA. We like SCA. We have worked together on other things. The way this thing came about and the reason we wanted to come in by ourselves for this request, was we just didn’t want to complicate it,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we were able to get through this process. Our first objective is to make sure we have the capability to get a liquor license.”