By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
“We’re going to get some additional ones.”
That was the confident declaration of Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler Tuesday in reference to the subject of liquor stores, and the city’s ongoing fight to be allowed more of them.
Last Friday, Girdler along with other city officials met with members of the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to convince them to increase Somerset’s number of “quota” licenses from five.
The Retail Liquor Package license that permits one to open a liquor store to sell wine and distilled spirits is considered a “quota” license. The state ABC office allowed five such licenses for Somerset, and decided which five applicants out of a pool of more than three times that many were given them.
Girdler felt like stores with a greater economic impact on the city could have been chosen — like Liquor World, which had planned on making a $5 million investment to revitalize the North Plaza Shopping Center in Somerset — and that based on overall market factors, Somerset could support more than five liquor stores.
Based on the presentation the city made to state alcohol officials last week, Girdler is ready to go ahead and call it a win for his city’s interests.
“The information provided back to us unofficially is that it appears likely that the city will be awarded what they requested,” said Girdler.
It’s not set in stone yet, however. Girdler said he expects the official word to come down on or about April 1.
“There’s one more step that the state ABC has to go through,” he said. “Once a final determination is made or the process completed, then the state will notify the city of the additional package stores.”
The city expects the number of new available licenses to likely be in the range of four to six. That’s in addition to the five stores which have already been granted licenses, and started opening this week.
What happens after that will closely mirror the process that applicants went through last year in placing their bids to get the available quota licenses. Those interested will need to place advertisements in the Commonwealth Journal indicating an intent to seek a license. There will likely be a 30-day window in which those who submitted applications previously and any new ones that wish to do so will subject to comments from the public. The state will then get with local ABC and city officials to make a determination regarding which applications will be approved.
Girdler said that the city has remained in contact “continually” with all the previous applicants that “we think would have a better economic impact” then some of the smaller-volume stores that were awarded licenses by the state, meaning those stores are likely to be in the hunt once again this go-round.
Nailing down the potential for more licenses is important for a city like Somerset which stands to grow significantly in the future, according to Girdler.
“This sets the stage for the next 10 to 20 years,” said Girdler of the quota determination process, meaning what Somerset gets number-wise will likely be what the city is allowed for the decades to come. “We want to make certain to make the case that Somerset needed several more (licenses). It has a potential to grow over that time frame, plus the lake is going up, plus the urban area is really around 35,000 people.”
The state based Somerset’s quota license number on the population of the City of Somerset, a hair under 12,000 as of the 2010 census. Yet the town serves as the commercial hub for all of Pulaski County, which is over five times that number in population, as well as surrounding counties and summer tourists, meaning the market that Somerset serves is significantly greater than the population recognized by the state in making their previous quota decision last January.
The city pointed this out in Friday’s presentation, and Girdler feels that state officials were receptive to the message.
“I think the ABC board felt that Somerset did make a great case for future growth and the ability to handle the number of package stores requested,” said Girdler. “They were setting quotas for 21 cities around Kentucky. Somerset was fortunate to be able to make its presentation. It was the way to protect investment for the future and create new economic growth.”