Northrop’s liquor status up for vote

Kristin Gustafson

Never in Northrop Memorial Auditorium’s 80-year history has a patron been able to purchase even a sip of alcohol at an entertainment event.
But that could change Friday if the Board of Regents approves a one-year exemption to the University’s policy banning alcohol sales on campus.
At the request of University administrators, regents will consider allowing alcohol sales to increase Northrop’s marketability and profit.
Alcohol sales could provide the University with $100,000 annually, which officials hope would help defray the costs of a $20 million Northrop Auditorium renovation.
Kruse said one-third of this cost would come from increased Northrop business, another third from private donations and a final third from the 2002 capital budget request.
“This is all a part of a bigger strategy,” said Eric Kruse, vice president of University Services. Kruse will present the proposal to the regents. “We desperately want to renovate the building.”
Currently, Northrop programming consists of about 60 events annually. But the University would like to increase this by at least 40 percent.
“We want to be competitive in the market,” Kruse said. “This is the type of amenity or service patrons expect. … This is a part of that service to create that total experience.”
If approved, the exemption would allow beer and wine sales at entertainment events targeted at crowds of legal drinking age or older.
Although the University’s liquor-license application would not be approved in time for Monday’s Melissa Etheridge concert, this is the type of event the University plans to target, Kruse said.
But alcohol still would not be served in the 4,800-capacity auditorium for other events such as the University’s marching band, convocations, commencements and lectures.
University President Mark Yudof recommended the one-year exemption with a review of the financial and campus-life impact after one year.
“It’s a controlled trial period to ensure that we can do this in a safe and responsible manner,” Kruse said.
Alcohol distribution will follow a one-person, one-ID, one-beverage policy, according to the proposed resolution.
Additionally, Kruse plans to consult with promoters to ensure their target markets are 21 or older and determine whether the atmosphere would be appropriate for alcohol.
But lifting the alcohol ban is not without opposition.
Jim Farrell, a University alumnus and executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, fought the measure when the state Legislature passed a bill last spring allowing alcohol sales at Northrop. But for sales to begin, regents must change the University’s policy as well.
Farrell said the University does not understand the gravity of allowing alcohol sales at a venue where 18-, 19- and 20-year-old students would have access to alcohol.
“Our greatest concern is that we’re tired as an industry of having bad operators,” Farrell said.
The University’s “self-policing approach” does not work, he said. To have University Police and administration reviewing and enforcing their own policy violations is a conflict of interest, he added.
One year ago, University officials encouraged local businesses to refuse admission to 18- to 20-year-old students at events where alcohol will be available as a way to combat underage drinking.
Shortly thereafter, Farrell said the University proposed lifting the alcohol ban at Northrop.
This is hypocritical, he said. It also puts local liquor-serving establishments at a competitive disadvantage.
Farrell added that despite the University’s talk about allowing only beer and wine sales, the legislation permits a full liquor license.
Pat Fleury, St. Paul Hospitality Association chairman, said local businesses agreed with the University’s suggestion to restrict selling tickets to people under 21 for events where alcohol will be served.
“We thought it was a good idea to put on the self-imposed restrictions,” Fleury said.
But in the future, Fleury won’t encourage businesses to follow the University’s suggestion.
“The driving force behind this entire thing is the dollar bill,” Fleury said.
The biggest objection to lifting the alcohol ban has come from local businesses, bars and restaurants who want the University to be safe and responsible, Kruse said. With the help of University public health experts, Kruse is confident the University will be able to just that, he added.
The average undergraduate student is older than 21, and the average age of the entire student body is in the mid-20s, Kruse said.
But drinking is still a campus concern.
Ideally, alcohol use would be done in a responsible manner, said Amelious Whyte, coordinator of chemical health programs at Boynton Health Service.
“Our goal isn’t to make prohibition,” Whyte said. “Our goal is to create an environment where people who use alcohol use it responsibly.”
But as long as the University continues to closely monitor alcohol sales, Whyte said he didn’t have a problem with lifting the ban.
Regent Chairwoman Patricia Spence isn’t sure what the board will decide Friday.
“It’s a complex issue,” she said.
Spence said she has mixed emotions about the policy.
But while Spence said she wants to ensure alcohol sales are properly controlled, she also wants the University to be able to raise needed revenue for Northrop Auditorium renovations.
Still, Spence approves of the one-year trial.
“It will only work as well as the system that is put in place,” Spence said.
Regents will discuss the issue Friday at their 9 a.m. board meeting in Morrill Hall.
Kristin Gustafson covers University administration and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3211.