Sunday, April 23, 2006

NA's riverfront development district passes first hurdle.

At last week’s New Albany city council meeting, an important economic development proposal passed an initial reading.

Restaurant bill approved 8-0; Eateries would be exempt from liquor-license quotas downtown, by Eric Scott Campbell (News-Tribune).

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to create a riverfront development district where restaurants could buy liquor licenses without adhering to state quotas.

Several business owners spoke in favor of the bill during the public comment period, saying it would attract new restaurants and entertainment. The bill must be approved two more times to become law.

At a previous council meeting in March, the proposal had been tabled. After characterizing the riverfront development district (RDD) as a “no-brainer,” I was surprised that some local businessmen were against it, and later amended my support for the RDD to include the courtesy of briefing existing three-way license holders about the many ways that the availability of non-quota permits might lift all downtown boats.

For background, see these two previous postings:

Leapfrogging the three-way quota? First the City Council must authorize a Riverfront Development project.

NAC swings and misses on the topic of the proposed Riverfront Development Project Area -- a good idea that needs more work.

Predictably, there is an element of community opposition to the RDD that centers on the neo-Prohibitionist refrain that access to liquor should be reduced, not expanded.

It seems to me that one angle has gone unexamined. There is at least a possibility that the availability of non-quota three-way permits at a consistent and fixed price might lead to a “less but better” scenario, in that once freed from the necessity of paying the Indiana quota system’s artificial “secondary market” price, a drinks emporium could emphasize a small selection of quality spirits instead of being forced into selling vast quantities of Jack and Coke to make back the inflated quota fee.

Certainly the RDD would assist in making it possible for someone to open a single malt Scotch bar, or a designer bourbon lounge, although bear in mind that the RDD would do nothing to lessen the red-tape expected of all alcohol license applicants, and in the case of downtown New Albany, many prospective business locations would not be approved owing to the unfortunate proximity of worthy buildings to the city’s far too numerous churches.

To the Curmudgeon, the latter is a clear violation of the separation of church and state, but it’s the law and probably won't be changed for decades to come owing to the prevalence of superstition in the typical Hoosier's diet. The state’s quota system also is the law, and it's idiotic, but at least the RDD provides a mechanism to alleviate some of the idiocy -- and encourages the revitalization of our downtown.

I hope that the council’s congenital obstructionists do not interfere with the progress of the riverfront development district. It’s no panacea – just something that would be quite helpful.

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