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Council committee votes against renewing Champions' liquor license

Posted by: Maya Rao under Local business, Politics and government Updated: February 25, 2014 - 4:03 PM

A south Minneapolis bar fighting accusations that it has enabled violence and drug-dealing lost a bid to renew its liquor license today from a regulatory committee of the Minneapolis City Council.

The panel voted 5-0 against granting another liquor license to Champions Saloon and Eatery at the corner of West Lake Street and Blaisdell Avenue South, after city regulators and attorneys contended that allowing the bar to continue serving alcohol was not in the public interest.

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 license or renewing it with strict conditions that could keep patrons safe.

Champions attorney Ed Matthews vowed to appeal the decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, arguing before council members that the matter was similar to the city’s case against Gabby’s Saloon and Eatery. The appeals court in 2009 sided with that bar, which has since closed, and directed the city to award it a settlement of more than $200,000, claiming that Minneapolis had gone too far in penalizing the establishment for what happened off the premises.

The Community Development and Regulatory Services Committee also denied Champions’ move to stay the action during the appeals process. The matter now goes to the full City Council for final approval.

Owner Rick Nelson said he would keep the restaurant open even without selling alcohol, which now accounts for about 70 percent of his sales. The bar employs 25 people.

Matthews argued that the bus stop right outside the bar had brought in a lot of crime, and that the police department’s prohibition on Champions continuing to employ off-duty cops made the problem worse. But 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 while it was packed.

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