By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
There’s been plenty of back-and-forth debate between the “wet” and “dry” forces lately about what an alcohol-legal Somerset might be like.
But what do those in other cities — ones where expanded drink sales have become a recent reality — have to say?
As it turns out, very little that’s negative — whether you’re talking to economic development types or law enforcement personnel.
The Commonwealth Journal spoke this week with parties from three different smaller Kentucky cities that have held votes in the last couple of years to allow the kind of full-scale alcohol availability that is at stake on Tuesday, June 26. That’s when Somerset voters will participate in a local option election, applying only to businesses within the city limits.
Contacted were representatives of the police departments from Danville (which allowed alcohol by the drink in larger restaurants in 2003 and for smaller establishments, bars, and package sales in the spring of 2010), Elizabethtown (which voted to permit package sales in October 2011 after being “moist” since 2002), and Corbin (which allowed drinks in restaurants in 2003, and package sales this past February).
Also contacted were economic development leaders from Danville and Elizabethtown. Bruce Carpenter, director of the Corbin Economic Development Agency, was contacted during the past week but did not return phone calls in time for publication of this article.
Corbin is a fourth-class city with a population of just over 7,300 as of the 2010 census. Danville is a third-class city with over 16,200 citizens, and Elizabethtown is the largest at more than 28,530, despite its fourth-class city status. Compare to Somerset, a third-class city with just under 11,200 residents as of the 2010 count.
Somerset’s vote, if approved, would allow the town full “wet” status, including individual drink sales in restaurants and package sales in stores.
Rules for taxation opportunities based on alcohol and restaurant sales vary from class to class, and cities may request the state legislature grant them a certain classification despite their size.
Danville’s Business of Booze
When asked whether or not alcohol has helped his city prosper, Danville’s Jody Lassiter answered simply:“It has.”
Lassiter is president and CEO of the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership, which ropes in the Boyle County Industrial Foundation, the tourism bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, and more.
“Our objective from our economic development partner agencies was to move from a ‘moist’ condition (that is, serving only drinks in restaurants with 100-plus seats individually) to ‘wet’,” he said.“(‘Moist’ status) was fine for Applebee’s and O’Charley’s, but it was not having any positive benefits for the restaurants downtown. In fact, it was inhibiting (them).”
That’s because picturesque downtown Danville was — much like Somerset — lined with older buildings and storefronts, places that didn’t have the kind of space to meet the seating requirements held by the town’s post-2003 alcohol policies.
“We needed a fix,” he said,“and Kentucky alcohol laws don’t provide many fixes other than to go completely ‘wet’.”