Prospect Park neighborhood wants voice in liquor licensing

The neighborhood is re-evaluating its liquor policy to prepare for the end of light-rail construction.

Prospect Park neighborhood wants voice in liquor licensing

Kia Farhang

When University of Minnesota neighborhoods try to curb alcohol use, balancing business restrictions with resident safety can be a challenge.

Prospect Park  is currently formalizing its liquor policy to avoid potential alcohol issues the light rail could bring when it opens next year. The neighborhood has negotiated with several local liquor license applicants in an attempt to avoid the late-night parties and crime its residents say Dinkytown suffers from.

City officials say they take neighborhood input into account, but some Prospect Park residents have expressed frustration with the process.

“We don’t have any real power,” said Karen Murdock, Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association secretary.

While the decision to grant a license is ultimately up to the Minneapolis City Council, neighborhood input plays an important role in the decision, said Linda Roberts, whose office makes recommendations to the Council.

“[Residents] definitely make a difference,” she said. “Their voice is very valuable to us.”

PPERRIA has asked restaurants to take a number of proactive measures to prevent binge drinking, which many residents are concerned about.

Prospect Park representatives have encouraged restaurants to limit drink specials, happy hours and bar seating, as well as to emphasize serving food with any alcoholic beverage.

If the business meets all of the requests, the neighborhood association writes a letter to the city supporting the license application.

Possible business restrictions

The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association also meets with liquor license applicants, albeit less formally.

“It’s not like we have a checklist or anything,” said Melissa Bean, MHNA executive director.

Bean said the neighborhood is mostly concerned with how late-night restaurants and bars will handle outside clean-up, but the restaurants have been cooperative and mostly do a good job.

Resident input has shot down a license application before.

Bean said a restaurant owner wanted a speaker system on their patio about three years ago. The restaurant was in a residential part of Marcy-Holmes.

The neighborhood didn’t support it, and the City Council never granted the license.

Ward 2 City Council member Cam Gordon, who represents Prospect Park, said neighborhood support holds “significant weight” in the license application process.

“I really appreciate it when businesses talk and meet with their neighbors,” Gordon said. “If neighborhoods are supportive, that gives a big signal to the Council.”        

In the past, business owners had to agree to any conditions attached to their liquor license up front before the Council approved it, Gordon said. If a business didn’t follow regulations, the city could only revoke its license or shut it down.

But a recent ordinance change creates some middle ground, allowing the City Council to impose probationary restrictions on “problem” restaurants and bars without owner approval.

Under the new ordinance, the city can require restaurants to close earlier than usual, hire extra security or provide more staff training until they clean up their act, Gordon said.

“My hope is that with the new law, people will realize that maybe conditions don’t need to be built in so much at the front,” Gordon said. “Maybe they can come in later.”

Residents fear limiting business

While some Prospect Park residents are worried they don’t have enough control over the liquor license landscape, others say the neighborhood policy is too restrictive.

“When I read the policy, I was a little alarmed,” said PPERRIA board member Tamara Johnson. She said the neighborhood’s practice goes “above and beyond what the city’s asking” by requiring restaurants to make commitments for the future, like promising to never install a bar.

Because businesses already have to go through the city licensing process, the neighborhood shouldn’t restrict them any further, said University alumna and Prospect Park resident Diana Dukich.

“It might make a business think twice about coming to Prospect Park,” she said.

Instead, Dukich said, the neighborhood association should focus on attracting businesses to the area.

Amy Kaminsky, a resident and University professor of gender, women and sexuality studies, said the current liquor policy restricts businesses rather than protecting students because restaurants and bars cater to an older crowd.

“When students want to drink, they’re not doing it at fancy bars,” she said. “They’re doing it in their apartments or at parties.”

Concerns over binge drinking

Longtime Prospect Park resident Paul Zerby said the policy prevents binge drinking without being too restrictive.

“Nobody I know would want to preclude anyone from having a beer,” he said. “There’s a long gap between binge drinking and prohibition.”

But binge drinking occurs in residence halls and private homes — not just bars, said University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner.

Most of Prospect Park is residential, which Miner said results in fewer police calls to the area.

University police don’t track calls by neighborhood, but Minneapolis police have recorded 115  crimes in Prospect Park in the first half of this year — less than half as many as in Marcy-Holmes, which includes Dinkytown.

Miner said after Dinkytown, the next most active late-night area is the Stadium Village commercial district, which is part of Prospect Park.

Areas like Dinkytown and Stadium Village could make it easier for students to binge drink, said Toben Nelson, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University who studies alcohol consumption behavior.

“Any time you have alcohol outlets that are clustered together,” he said, “those tend to be spots where more alcohol-related problems … are much more common.”

Graphic design junior and Marcy-Holmes resident Christina Maher said she thinks students don’t restrict their drinking to bars and instead do it wherever they can.

Maher said some of Prospect Park’s policies may discourage binge drinking but won’t wipe it out entirely.

“If you’re super driven to be out drinking with your friends,” she said, “I think those are the people that won’t really be fazed.”