OTW liquor ordinance difficult

Some downtown Rockford business owners and On The Waterfront are at odds over a proposed liquor ordinance amendment. The amendment would allow festival attendees to take their drinks to and from select businesses and the festival site.

Business owners and On The Waterfront sparred on that issue during a July 31 Rockford City Council Codes and Regulations meeting, On The Waterfront Board Chairman Kim Casey said, during a July 31 Codes and Regulations meeting, they weren’t successful.

“We do not support the change, but we will abide by the decision made by the (Codes and Regulations Committee),” Casey said.

Committee Chairman, Ald. Doug Mark (R-3), said On The Waterfront’s pledge to support the change was “a first step of cooperation.” City Attorney Jennifer Cacciapaglia noted committee members were looking at the eighth draft of the proposed ordinance.

“It does not address all the concerns we raised with you last week,” Cacciapaglia said.

Ald. Carl Wasco (D-4) wasn’t necessarily feeling the cooperation. Wasco said he was “a little disappointed” that On The Waterfront and business owners couldn’t come to some agreement. He encouraged them to take a week to hash out their differences and moved to lay the matter over. Fellow committee members agreed, and approved the layover.

Casey said she looks forward to another opportunity to meet with downtown business owners. Though their previous meeting didn’t produce much agreement, Casey still described it as productive: “We did reach out.”

According to Casey, she and business owners met previously to focus on which they agreed. But she said the revised proposed ordinance still doesn’t address revenue and insurance issues. Cacciapaglia said an ordinance that mandated a certain price, would be illegal.

But Casey said business owners could enter into a pricing agreement with On The Waterfront because of its not-for-profit status. Cacciapaglia confirmed they’d be willing to enter into such agreement.

According to Wasco, the agreement between On The Waterfront and business owners seemed to have been made under duress. He stressed the importance of coming to an understanding: “Everybody in this town has got some investment in On The Waterfront.”

Doc Slafkosky of J.R. Kortman Center for Design seemed to question the need for an agreement: “We’ve never competed with the festival in price.” Slafkosky hinted liquor establishments were being discriminated against. He noted festival attendees were currently allowed to bring, for example, pizza from Capri Restaurant & Pizza or sandwiches from Subway, to the On The Waterfront site.

“We’ve opened a whole new can of worms,” Ald. Ann Thompson (D-7) said.

But Thompson noted the businesses “paid the price to be (in downtown).” She wondered whether the city’s contribution to the “empire that has been built” is being put to good use. Thompson said she strongly encouraged both parties to “tear down the walls.”

With that said, Slafkosky said others will get more out of the amendment than business owners: “People who benefit from this ordinance are the people going to (On The Waterfront).”

Kyptonite owner Chris Wachowiak said festival goers don’t understand the “invisible line in the sand.” Wachowiak shared more thoughts in an e-mail to aldermen: “Thousands of adults merrily walking around drinking and being respectful of their environment, and with no unnecessary confrontation at every establishment, where the first words they hear are: ‘sorry, you cannot bring that in here.” What logic could be seen by the average festivalgoer by telling them, as they’re surrounded by people drinking, ‘you cannot bring that drink in here… You have to keep that drink out there… You can drink in here, just not the one you have, oh, and when you want to go back into the festival, you cannot bring your new drink with you, either.’ What logic does that offer?”

He also noted, during public participation during the July 31 City Council meeting, business owners’ suggestions were “scoffed at.” Brio owner Paul Sletten agreed, also during the City Council meeting.

“What we see is (On The Waterfront) not appreciating our knowledge,” Sletten said.

He noted that his business isn’t located within the On The Waterfront area, but there to show his support because “it makes sense.”

“All we’re asking is for (downtown business owners) to be included in (On The Waterfront),” Sletten said, adding the current ordinance creates an “inconvenient conflict.”

Downtown business owners campaigned for the change during a July 24 Rockford City Council Codes and Regulations meeting.

According to Jerry Kortman, owner of J.R. Kortman Center for Design and Kortman Gallery, the ban has put him in a precarious position: “We’re sort of sitting on pins and needles.”

It’s nearly impossible to keep customers from leaving his establishment without their drink, Kortman said. He said the potential for violations made him nervous about losing his liquor license. Kortman stressed he supports and has supported On The Waterfront for most of its 23-year history.

“We don’t want the festival to be the thing of the past,” he said.

But On The Waterfront Board Chairman Kim Casey fears increased sales by some downtown Rockford businesses would affect the event’s bottom line. Casey said additional vendors tend to reduce on-site beer sales. Becky Genoways, On The Waterfront chief executive director, said there’s been a decrease of on-site alcohol sales at various events nationwide.

Less beer sales means less money for not-for-profit organizations, which use the event as a fund-raising opportunity, she said. Casey also alleged increased alcohol sales outside the On The Waterfront site could translate into a 15 percent insurance premium increase for her organization.

“All the risk is being put upon On The Waterfront,” she said. “We think there are control issues. We think there are insurance issues.”

The proposed amended ordinance doesn’t contain any safeguards for On The Waterfront.

While noting she wasn’t speaking on their behalf, City Attorney Jennifer Cacciapaglia said business owners said they would acquire additional insurance coverage, if necessary. Cacciapaglia also noted that On The Waterfront’s insurer may have suggested the premium increase because it lacked information.

But Casey said the insurance company had all the information it needed—including the ordinance. Though she also noted requiring the business owners to undergo training might have a positive effect. Kortman said he’d be happy to send an employee to training.

Thompson asked the business owners present how much On The Waterfront increases business. Octane Owner Michelle Minnick said her business generally breaks even that weekend.

Sletten agreed: “It’s pretty much going to be a wash.” Sletten stressed he and fellow business owners wouldn’t undercut On The Waterfront vendors’ prices.

From the Aug. 2-8, 2006, issue

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