Alcohol issue divides regents

Kristin Gustafson

Alcohol sales at Northrop Auditorium stirred up rare disagreement at Friday’s Board of Regents meeting.
Though the one-year trial to sell beer and wine during entertainment events at the East Bank concert venue was approved eight to three, the divided decision is possibly the first during University President Mark Yudof’s 2.5-year tenure as president.
Liquor sales will be restricted to cultural, nonacademic events targeting patrons over the legal drinking age of 21. The University plans to monitor any alcohol misuse and will review the policy after a full year to determine its impact on University finances and campus life.
“I think it sends the wrong message,” Regent Warren Larson said during the meeting in which the measure was approved.
Although Larson said he supported the “well-thought-through” policies and protections surrounding the proposal, he said, “it puts us on a slippery slope.'”
“It sends the wrong message and gets us in for the wrong reasons,” Larson said.
Yudof, other top University administrators and the board’s majority supported selling alcohol to increase Northrop’s marketability and profit.
“I do support this,” Yudof told the board. “It’s a wonderful facility that is losing a substantial amount of money every year, and it needs to be fixed up, and either we’re in or out in terms of trying to make this a competitive feature on our campus.”
The estimated $100,000 increase in Northrop’s annual $1.5 million revenue would help defray the costs of a $20 million renovation for the 4,800-capacity auditorium — a focal point of the Northrop Mall.
The University desperately wants to renovate the building, and increased marketability will help, said Eric Kruse, vice president of University Services.
One-third of Northrop’s renovation costs will come from increased business, in part generated by $100,000 in alcohol-sales revenue. The rest of the money for Northrop will come from private donations and state funding.
“All these things are just rationalizing,” said Regent Anthony Baraga. “$100,000 is just a spit in the ocean.”
Baraga said the University’s campus should continue as an alcohol-free destination for entertainment. “I think it is a poor policy,” he said.
The seven Board of Regents student representatives were initially concerned with alcohol misuse and how the exemption might affect the University’s image, said Heidi Frederickson, a junior political science major at the University of Minnesota-Morris who serves as the student representatives’ chairwoman.
“We know that alcohol abuse is a major issue the University is trying to deal with,” Frederickson said.
But the student representatives, who represent all five University campuses, decided to support the measure after learning about its benefits, she said. However, these reasons and benefits need to be communicated to students on the Twin Cities’ campus, Frederickson told the board.
Eric Kruse outlined the University protections to address potential alcohol abuse.
Alcoholic beverages will not be available in the absence of Northrop programming, Kruse said. A one-person, one-ID, one-beverage policy and pre-determined service cutoff times will also be enforced.
Also, a committee — including the University police’s chief, Northrop’s director, the food and service vendor, and student-development andinstitutional-relations representatives — will determine which events might have alcohol sales based on the entertainment’s target audience and past history.
In addition to protective measures of insurance and several levels of security, Kruse said Northrop staff members will receive alcohol-awareness training.
Sandra Gardebring, vice president for institutional relations, said she joined Kruse in supporting the policy.
After consulting internally and externally to get reactions to the policy change, Gardebring said there was general support.
The School of Public Health voiced some concerns about alcohol misuse, Gardebring said. The University responded by involving them in alcohol-awareness training for Northrop staff and evaluation of the programming where alcohol would be served.
Most local businesses supported the measure because of its potential to bring more business to the area, Gardebring said.
And though there is general support in the broader community, she said the community wants to make sure the University follows through on measures targeted at responsible alcohol use.
In a letter sent to regents Friday, Jim Farrell, a University alumnus and the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association’s executive director, criticized the proposal.
Farrell was concerned about the University’s inability to control access to underage patrons and with the University self-policing alcohol violations.
In an earlier interview with The Minnesota Daily, Farrell said a conflict of interest arises because Kruse oversees both Northrop and University Police.
However, Yudof said this was not a concern.
“I would tell the police, as I’m sure Eric (Kruse) will, ‘Don’t consult with me. You do whatever you need to do to make sure all these laws are abided and there is no alcohol abuse.'”
If the one-year trial turns out to be a mistake, Kruse told the board he has the power to end the exemption.
“Our actual experience should speak for itself as to whether we continue with the policy and then form a board policy, or stop this activity,” Kruse said.
Regent David Metzen voted for the one-year exemption.
“I’m excited about using Northrop better and remodeling it and getting some things going,” Metzen said. “I think there are enough controls in this that if it doesn’t work, we can back away.”

Kristin Gustafson covers University administration and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3211.