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Dave Olson, Published January 17 2013

Metro-area mayors share their views on liquor licenses

By Dave Olson


MOORHEAD – Liquor licenses and the role they play in economic development was one of the topics when the mayors of Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and Dilworth spoke at an event hosted Thursday by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking in front of a crowd of more than 400 people, the mayors gave a summary of their community’s accomplishments this past year and the challenges they expect to face in the coming year.

They also answered questions from the audience, including one from a Fargo business owner who asked what the mayors thought about the role of liquor licenses in the economic development of their respective cities.

“We do not restrict liquor licenses,” said West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern.

“If you have a good restaurant/bar combination and you do a good job, you’re going to make it. If you do not, you’re not going to make it,” Mattern said, adding that one business that has been successful is Maxwells Restaurant and Bar in West Fargo.

“They draw a lot of people to town,” Mattern said.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland outlined the difference between how North Dakota deals with liquor licenses and the way they are handled in Minnesota.

In North Dakota, he said, “Once you get a liquor license, you own it. Whether there’s a yearly fee, I’m not even sure. But it stays with the person that has bought it.”

In Minnesota, a license is issued for one year and the holder must reapply every year, Voxland said.

“I’m really glad we have this kind of structure,” he said. “You don’t have to pay $100,000-plus for a liquor license.

“In Moorhead, I think it’s $6,200 a year. So, it’s a pretty inexpensive up-front cost,” Voxland said.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said he has long envisioned a situation where the city would buy back liquor licenses and start from scratch with a new system.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen because we couldn’t afford it,” he said. “Some of these licenses are $200,000, and they’ve been passed down from generation to generation with an annual fee.”

Dilworth Mayor Chad Olson said he sees the restaurant and bar industry enhancing the quality of life in the metro area.

“It’s part of the overall picture that we all enjoy,” he said.

After informing the audience that he had vowed not to discuss anything negative, Walaker said he would stray from his plan and touch on a subject he said is of critical importance to the Fargo-Moorhead area: the need for a backup water supply.

Walaker said he wants the federal government give its final OK to a proposed project to divert Missouri River water to the Red River Valley during times of drought.

He said in the 1930s, when Fargo’s population was about 35,000, the Red River stopped flowing for about 850 days.

Today, with Fargo’s population above 100,000, the need for a backup water supply is even greater, he said.

“We need that approval to bring water from the Missouri to the cities of Fargo and Moorhead,” Walaker said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555