Lawmakers debate liquor sales at U

Proposed amendments to a bill may affect future revenues from University sports facilities.

by James Nord

After handing the University of Minnesota an all-or-nothing alcohol sales policy for TCF Bank Stadium last year, the Legislature is considering allowing the University to choose where exactly to sell alcohol in its sports facilities, as was originally planned. Controversial amendments to a liquor bill would change the requirements regarding alcohol sales on licensed, University-owned property, such as the stadium or Mariucci and Williams arenas. The stringent requirements were added last session. Prior to that, liquor sales were left to the UniversityâÄôs discretion and served in premium seating areas only. Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, introduced the amendment last week, and the Senate Higher Education Committee will hear the bill Tuesday. Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, the committeeâÄôs chairwoman, said she supports the amendment and said the UniversityâÄôs budget troubles make it likely the bill will be passed by her committee. âÄúWeâÄôre in a position of having to cut the UniversityâÄôs budget,âÄù Pappas said. âÄúWe should not be also cutting their ability to raise money in other ways.âÄù But critics of the bill, including the chairman of the House Higher Education committee, have challenged the logic of framing the debate as an economic issue. Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, Minn., led the charge that got the original restrictions in place last session. He said he heard rumors that a similar bill might be introduced in the House this session and decried the University as âÄúelitistâÄù for allowing only premium ticketholders to drink. University officials do not have a formal position on the legislation this session, but administrators have opposed allowing alcohol sales throughout the stadium since the debate began, University spokesman Dan Wolter said in an e-mail. University police also weighed in against it, citing concerns about the effect alcohol could have on a crowd. In June, following the original billâÄôs passage, the UniversityâÄôs Board of Regents prohibited the sale of alcohol at the stadium and both arenas, despite the expected loss of revenue attached to the decision. Wolter said the brunt of revenue losses doesnâÄôt stem from the lack of actual alcohol sales, but from un-renewed premium seats and losing suite holders, as well as the resulting lower prices used to spur demand. Wolter said it is estimated that the University faces a yearly loss ranging from $1 million to $2 million in terms of premium seating at TCF Bank Stadium and Mariucci and Williams arenas. Losses related to actual alcohol sales only add up to about $200,000 yearly, he said. Under the billâÄôs provisions, the renewed income from alcohol sales would be set aside for merit-based scholarships for University athletes. Additionally, added language directs the University to study the effects of the expanded service and report to the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2012.