Minneapolis officials reject renewal of Champions' liquor license

  • Article by: MAYA RAO
  • Updated: February 26, 2014 - 5:15 AM

Champions Saloon and Eatery will appeal the decision by a City Council committee, which found the business a danger to the area.

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Rick Nelson, owner of Champions, outside his Lake St. bar late Wednesday night, March 21, 2012.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Minneapolis officials said Champions Saloon and Eatery’s troubles with the city had persisted for years. They accused it of enabling violence and drugs. Then they rendered a rare decision on a bid to renew a liquor license.

Denied.

Incidents going all the way back to 2006 have “resulted in a danger to the patrons, a danger to the neighborhood,” said Jacob Frey, vice chair of the City Council’s regulatory and development committee, which voted 5-0 against Champions on Tuesday.

Evoking the shooting death of one customer inside the packed bar last August, he added: “And I don’t think any tax revenue generated would necessarily undo a homicide.”

A lawyer for the popular bar at W. Lake Street and Blaisdell Ave. S. vowed to appeal the decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, saying the matter was similar to the city’s case against Gabby’s Saloon and Eatery. The Appeals Court in 2009 sided with the since-closed bar and directed Minneapolis to award it a settlement of more than $200,000, claiming that the city had gone too far in penalizing the establishment for what happened off the premises.

The committee additionally denied Champions’ move to stay the action during the appeals process. The matter now goes to the full City Council for final approval.

The move follows Administrative Law Judge Jeanne Cochran’s findings in a report this month that Champions failed to provide adequate security. She recommended either not renewing the bar’s liquor license or renewing it with strict conditions that could enhance security.

Champions lawyer Ed Matthews argued to council members that during Champions’ earlier run-ins with the city in 2006 and 2007, owner Rick Nelson had only a 10 percent stake in the business. He said that after Nelson took full ownership in 2008, he implemented many security measures, sought help from the city over concerns about drug-dealing and advocated moving a bus stop that was a magnet for crime. The Police Department’s prohibition on Champions continuing to employ off-duty cops, he added, made the problem worse.

Assistant city attorney Joel Fussy said the bar refused to accept responsibility for escalating criminal and nuisance activity, which came to a head last August when a man was shot to death inside Champions, which was packed at the time.

Frey and Lisa Goodman, the chair of the committee, noted that bars near bus stops operated all over the city without incident.

Brushing back Matthews’ assertion that Champions pays $100,000 in sales tax a year, Goodman questioned, “How much money was spent by the Police Department, the licensing department, and other departments in the city to regulate and/or control the out of control behavior at Champions? I would guess it would be 10 plus times that … so if the business were to go out of business we’d be a net winner.”

Outside council chambers, Nelson said he would keep the 25-employee restaurant open even without selling alcohol. Liquor accounts for about 70 percent of his sales. “We’re not going anywhere,” he vowed.

 

Maya Rao • 612-673-4210

 

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