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Erik Burgess, Published March 03 2014

Commissioners to reconsider approval of Bulldog Tap expansion in south Fargo

FARGO – After hearing protests from some area bar owners, city commissioners here said they will take another look at a south Fargo bar expansion they originally approved last summer.

The bar owners protested when they learned that Dave Erickson, of Bulldog Tap, 4265 45th St. S., was going to open up another bar nearby without applying for a second liquor license.

Commissioners also advised the city attorney to clarify when two bars can be considered separate and thus require two distinct liquor licenses, with City Commissioner Brad Wimmer saying a “can of worms” will be opened if Erickson is allowed to operate two separate bars with one license.

“I just can’t imagine what’s going to happen if we start allowing two bars to open up with one license,” Wimmer said. “I just think that we’re going to have licenses being turned in, and people saying, ‘I don’t need this other license. I’ve got a bar half a block down. I’ll just run it under that bar.’ ”

The city last July approved Erickson’s request to expand his Bulldog Tap by granting him a liquor license extension.

Since then, it’s come to light that Erickson is not expanding the Bulldog but instead plans to open an entirely new bar in a separate building – Hennessy’s Irish Pub, 4323 45th St. S.

The commission voted unanimously Monday to reconsider its action in July at a future meeting, after proper notice has been given to anyone who was at the original hearing, City Attorney Erik Johnson said.

“There should be a second license, and the reason is because they are two different types of bar,” said Mayor Dennis Walaker.

In the meantime, city officials have said the original commission action gives Erickson permission to open his new bar as is.

Erickson has said he would like to open the pub in time for St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, but protesting bar owners wanted the city to look into it before a precedent is set.

“We’ve got two buildings, two names, two entrances, two bars, one liquor license,” said Ross Brandborg, an attorney representing protesting liquor license holders, a group that includes JT Cigarro owner Barrett Prody.

Mark Hanson, an attorney representing Erickson, said he still has the original floor plan, and that he doesn’t believe Erickson acted deceptively.

“(The original plan) does show two buildings,” Hanson said. “It doesn’t say that there’s going to be one name. It does show that there are going to be two entrances, and it did allow one liquor license.”

Hanson said the previous action of the commission can’t be undone. Erickson has put $1 million into the new pub and hired 40 employees.

“This is a bell that simply cannot be unrung,” he said.

Hanson said Erickson is willing to find a solution, and it might entail him purchasing a new, separate liquor license for the pub.

One option is for the city to create another Class Z liquor license for Erickson. The license would have an initial fee of $105,000 and would have no requirement for food sales, said City Auditor Steve Sprague.

But the Z license is tied to the city’s population, so it’s unclear if another license can be issued immediately and to one person without an open application process.

Erickson could also apply for a Class FA license, which requires at least 50 percent of business to be food sales. There is no citywide cap on FA licenses, so one would be immediately available. It has an initial fee of $100,000.

“There are a number of possibilities out there,” Sprague said. “Right now, it’s almost like a shell game. We’re kind of moving things around until we figure out what works best both for the city and for the business owner.”

Walaker said he thought the two structures should have two licenses. But Commissioner Tim Mahoney challenged him, asking him why The Hub, which has multiple establishments under one roof, only has one liquor license.

“They have one room, and that’s the difference,” Walaker said.

Another example is Old Broadway, which has three distinct eating venues joined in one building and operating under one liquor license, Johnson said.

The commission asked Johnson to look into existing examples and help clarify how the city can define two separate entities that would require two separate licenses.

“I think it’s in our best interest, and I assume both sides would agree, to move this along as quickly as we can,” Wimmer said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518